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Drug Use Effects - Teen Drug Abuse

Drug Use Effects - Teen Drug Abuse: Teen drug abuse statistics, facts, treatment options, and more. Get the teen drug use facts and how it affects the brain. The effects of drug use differ with each drug. Find marijuana use effects and cocaine abuse effects on the brain.


Drug use can have many serious effects on a teen's brain. These can include addiction, mood disorders, and decreases in the teen's memory, concentration, and other brain functions. Teens should be taught about the serious consequences of drug use and discouraged from using drugs.

Teens' minds and bodies are still developing, so drug use is especially harmful to teens' brains. Drug use among teens may include the use of illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroine, marijuana, ecstasy, or methamphetamines, the improper use of prescription drugs, using alcohol or nicotine, or huffing, which means inhaling household chemicals to get a buzz. All of these forms of drug use are dangerous, causing negative changes in a teen's brain and sometimes leading to brain damage or death.

Teen drug use is a serious problem. In 2003, over 7.5 million troubled teens reported that they had tried illegal drugs at least once. 40 percent of high school students admitted they had used marijuana, 12 percent had huffed, 11 percent had used ecstasy, about 9 percent had tried cocaine, almost 8 percent had used methamphetamines, 6 percent had used steroids illegally, and 3 percent had tried heroine. Almost 30 percent of teens had been offered drugs at school.

Addiction is a common side effect of teen drug use. Teen drug addiction is a brain disorder that occurs as teens use drugs, which changes the chemical makeup of a teen's brain. Teen drug addiction is characterized by compulsive and sometimes uncontrollable cravings for the drug, even when using the drug has serious physical, emotional, and social consequences. In many teens, drug addiction becomes chronic, lasting throughout their lives. Some teens can become addicted to a drug the first time they use it, while others may be able to use the drug several times before becoming addicted. There is no way to determine how long it will take for a teen to become addicted to a drug, but the younger a teen is when he or she first uses drugs, the more likely he or she is to become addicted to drugs.

Some signs of teen addiction to drugs, including alcohol, include: 

  • Using the drug despite negative consequences 
  • Driving under the influence, or riding in a car with an impaired driver 
  • Using drugs to relax or feel better 
  • Using drugs alone 
  • Not remembering things done while using drugs 
  • Friends or family notice and are concerned about the drug use 
  • Getting into trouble due to using drugs 
  • Physical changes due to drug use, such as respiratory problems or other changes in health, or alterations in mood, appearance, or habits

Treatment can help some troubled teens struggling with drug addition. Treatment may include drug rehabilitation programs and individual or group therapy. A doctor can help diagnose teen drug addiction and suggest appropriate treatments.

Using drugs can have other serious side effects on a teen's developing brain. Some of these include: 

  • Slower development of the brain and body, meaning that teens who use drugs are likely to have smaller brains and to be shorter. 
  • Loss of short-term memory and ability to learn 
  • Underdeveloped motor skills 
  • Lack of motivation 
  • Impaired emotional and sexual development 
  • Deviant behavior and conduct disorders 
  • Inability to judge risks 
  • Depression and suicidal tendencies 
  • Eating disorders 
  • Personality and psychiatric disorders 
  • Damage to blood vessels in the brain, which can lead to strokes 
  • Convulsions or seizures 
  • Reduced brain function, which can lead to coma and death

Parents should be aware of common drugs and the effects they can have on teens' minds, and talk to their teens about why they should not use drugs. Parents should watch for the symptoms of drug use, such as withdrawal, sudden and extreme changes in personality, appearance, activities, school performance, or friends, and lying and stealing. If troubled teens have these symptoms, parents should talk to them about their concerns and consider taking the teen to a professional for evaluation and treatment.

This is Your Brain on Drugs Sources:

  • NIDA for Teens, The Brain and Addiction [online]
  • U.S. Department of Justice, National Drug Intelligence Center, Teens and Drugs: Fast Facts [online]

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