increased risk of substance use
disorders as an adult

While all teens who use drugs do not become addicted, drug use during this critical time of brain development increases the chance of developing a substance use disorder. Nine in 10 or 90 percent of all adults with substance use disorders began drinking, smoking and using marijuana or other drugs before age 18. Preventing or delaying substance use until at least the age of 21 can significantly reduce the risk of future addiction.

  • Drugs affect the brain reward system, making it difficult to experience pleasure naturally. The brain reward system creates feelings of pleasure when we are affected by certain outside stimuli such as running, hearing a joke, or eating. This pleasure makes people seek out the stimuli that caused that pleasure.

  • Drugs produce pleasure that is far more intense than everyday healthy activities. This means that regular activities that would cause brain reward instead seem dull and not stimulating to regular drug users. Once the reward system has been altered, users commonly seek more drugs to experience that high again. The body, however, develops a tolerance to drugs, reducing the amount of reward a dose of the drug gives after repeated drug use. People then use more and more of that drug and may combine the use of multiple drugs in order to achieve a greater high. This pattern of drug use often leads to long-term addiction.

  • Nearly every drug user, including those with severe substance use disorders, started by using alcohol, tobacco (nicotine), or marijuana, or often all three. These drugs are commonly used because they are often accessible, falsely believed to be low risk, and use is believed by many youth to be normal.

  • Teens need to know that these drugs pose a serious threat to their health and should be avoided and that an increasingly large percentage of youth are making the decision not to use any alcohol, tobacco, marijuana or other drugs.

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