For Teens

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.