Effects of drug abuse in teenagers

Updated April 17, 2017

The teenage brain is still developing, and use of illicit drugs and alcohol can negatively impact this crucial period of development. It is difficult to predict precisely how drugs will effect the growing brain of an adolescent but a growing body of evidence is indicating that there is no safe amount of drugs for adolescents. Even drugs formerly thought of as "safe" such as cannabis, can have dire consequences for youth.

The Brain

Studies of the brain have made incredible gains in the past number of years. According to Jay N. Giedd in the "Journal of Adolescent Health," published in October 2007, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is greatly improving understanding of the teenage brain and the stages of development.

According the National Institute of Mental Health, MRIs display brain growth well into the teen years and even into young adulthood. It is known that different areas of the brain are responsible for regulating behaviour, pleasure-seeking and making judgments. Scientist are gaining an understanding that underdevelopment of certain areas might make teens more prone to impulsive behaviours such as drug and alcohol use. For example, the developing teen brain --- in particular the nucleus accumbens, amygdala and prefrontal cortex --- might make teenagers more prone to low-effort/high-reward activities (i.e. video games), a greater propensity to react explosively and behave impulsively.

Understanding how neurobiological development contributes to behaviour is continuing to develop along with understanding how drugs and alcohol might impair proper brain development. It is unclear to what extent drugs and alcohol have on brain development, but studies on animals and humans have started to point toward impaired development, according to the Mentor Foundation.

Substance-Induced Psychosis

According to Psych-Net UK, substance-induced psychosis involves a display of emotions, disorganised speech and disorganised behaviour can be caused by using drugs. It is often believed that marijuana poses less of a risk to youth, but according to Dr. Brian Boettcher in his article "Cannabis Psychosis" published on, cannabis has been known to promote drug-induced psychosis as well. Usually it is paired with another drug when this occurs, but there have been reported instances of cannabis alone inducing psychosis.

Effects of Amphetamines

According to the U.S. National Drug Intelligence Center, amphetamines increase heart rate, breathing and blood pressure. Amphetamines also can cause increased sweating, shaking, decreased sleep and might cause blurred vision. Use of amphetamines over time might increase your chances of psychosis or problems regulating mood.

Effects of Cocaine and Crack

These drugs from the coca plant act as stimulants that increase heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. Cocaine when used as an inhalant can break down your nose's lining. Both drugs can be fatal on first use as they can cause your heart to stop or cause you to stop breathing.


Cannabis, or marijuana, can elevate heart and blood pressure. The most prevalent effect of cannabis is its effect on mood regulation and a predilection toward excessive sleep.

Effects of Inhalants

According to the organisation Teen Help LLC, inhalants are among the most insidious drugs because of their ready availability and very damaging effects. Inhalants are among the most likely drugs to cause severe negative effects, including death. Long-term users suffer from hearing loss, loss of smell, cognitive impairments, headaches and nosebleeds.

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