Addiction, also known as substance use disorder (SUD), is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a chronic, relapsing brain disorder. According to the American Psychiatric Association, substance use disorder is a “complex condition in which there is uncontrolled use of substance despite harmful consequence.” The teenage years are filled with new experiences, shifting hormones, physical development, challenging lessons, and a newfound need for autonomy. Teenagers are notoriously curious and are often known for testing boundaries and pushing limits. It is highly common for young people to experiment with drug use, and research has found that the younger someone is when they first try drugs the more likely they are to go on to develop substance use disorder. Consider the following statistics regarding teenage drug use:
- 70% of kids who try illegal drugs before age 13 develop substance use disorder by age 20.
- 35% of people in college prefer using illegal drugs to prescription drugs.
- The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) reported findings from a survey that found 58.8% of teenagers had consumed alcohol by their senior year in high school, and 47% had used illicit drugs.
- One in six people who try marijuana before they turn 18 become addicted.
- From 2018 to 2019, alcohol use among those aged 12 to 17 increased by 4.4%, despite a decline in other age groups.
- Data from 2022 presented by the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, indicate that addiction affects over 20 million Americans aged 12 and older.
Habitually abusing drugs and/ or alcohol will affect the way one’s brain functions, as one’s body becomes increasingly accustomed to operating with the presence of the substance in its system, which can be dangerous to the developing brain of a teenager. The teenage brain is not yet fully developed, and will not reach full development until age twenty-five, at the earliest. A teenager relies heavily on the amygdala (the area of the brain associated with impulses, emotions, aggression, instinctive behavior, and plays a role in sexual activity and libido) when reacting to certain stimuli whereas an adult relies on the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain that is involved in planning, self-control, and decision making) when reacting to the same stimuli. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that teenagers and young adults tend to be more vulnerable to addiction and other forms of reckless behavior compared to other age groups.
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