Mental Health & Wellness
What is at Stake? –
Drugs effects on the teenage brain
- From early adolescence through their mid-20s, a teen’s brain develops
somewhat unevenly, from back to front. This may help explain their endearingly
quirky behavior but also makes them prone to risk-taking.
- The parts of the adolescent brain which develop first are those which control
physical coordination, emotion and motivation. However, the part of the
brain which controls reasoning and impulses – known as the Prefrontal
Cortex – is near the front of the brain and, therefore, develops
last. This part of the brain does not fully mature until the age of 25.
- While the other parts of the teen brain are shouting, the Prefrontal Cortex
is not quite ready to play referee. This can have noticeable effects on
adolescent behavior. You may have noticed some of these effects in your
daily functioning: difficulty holding back or controlling emotions, a
preference for physical activity, a preference for high excitement and
low effort activities (video games, texting, etc.), poor planning and
judgment (difficulty thinking of negative consequences), more risky, impulsive
behaviors, including experimenting with drugs and alcohol.
Developing brains may be more prone to damage.
The development of the adolescent brain and behavior are closely linked.
In a wink, hormones can shift your emotions into overdrive, leading to
unpredictable – and sometimes risky – actions. Unfortunately,
developing brains may be more prone to damage. This means that experimentation
with drugs and alcohol can have lasting, harmful effects on your health
– even if you made that decision in the heat of the moment.
- Research shows that alcohol abuse during the teenage years negatively impacts
the memory center of the brain (the hippocampus).
- The use of drugs and alcohol may also disrupt the development of the adolescent
brain in unhealthy ways, making it harder for teens to cope with social
situations and the normal pressures of life.
Moreover, the brain’s reward circuits (the dopamine system) get thrown
out of whack when under the influence. This causes teens who use to feel
in a funk when they are not on drugs or alcohol – and going back
for more only makes things worse.
What to expect
- Studies have shown that it is just as effective, and sometimes even more
effective, than individual therapy. While initially it can be anxiety
provoking to join a new group of people you don’t know, after a
few sessions you will likely feel more comfortable and find that this
environment can be a very effective way for you to learn about problems
you are facing and possible solutions. Group therapy allows you to see
how other teens handle their problems and other group members can be an
excellent source of support. You will also practice new ways to handle
your own problems.
- Group therapy provides a unique setting in which teens can learn from and
support each other to get help with their problems. Groups are led by
mental health professionals and consist of a small group of your peers,
dealing with issues similar to your own. The group leaders will bring
up topics and ask questions to facilitate therapy; however, you are also
free to ask your own questions and get answers from the group.