When it comes to drug and alcohol use, everyone knows there are subsequent risks present, whether the use is a one-time thing or a habit developed over many years. No matter who misuses the substances, be they drugs, alcohol or both, numerous studies show that substance use in teens and young adults has significantly higher risks than substance use in adults.

This means that as damaging as substance abuse is in adults, it’s increasingly worse for those below the age of 25. 

Why is substance abuse more dangerous for young adults?

Alcohol, tobacco and marijuana are some of the most commonly abused substances by teens, all of which have a negative effect on the brain. Because normal brain development is not completed until the mid-20s, substance abuse before that age can impair the growth and development of the brain. 

For example, substance use dangerously affects the development of myelin and synaptic refinement, that is, the processes of the brain responsible for the ability to plan and organize, curb impulses and process information quickly and efficiently. This means that if these developments in the brain are impaired during adolescence, they will be less effective in the adult years.

Strictly speaking, an adult with substance abuse in their past might have trouble with impulse control, organizational skills and efficient thinking processes. 

In addition to this, the effects of substance abuse also impact the body: 

  • Harming the body’s pleasure receptors 
  • Negatively affecting memory 
  • Training the brain to expect external or synthetic versions of chemicals (dopamine), rather than creating healthy levels of these chemicals on its own 

And while all these risks are associated with adult substance use as well, their effects are harsher on the still-developing mind and body of a teen, versus the fully, physically developed mind and body of an adult.

The negative effects of substance abuse

Substance use doesn’t just affect the physical body, it impacts the social and emotional aspects of a young adult’s life as well. Drug and alcohol use impairs the brain, leading to a lack of judgment and rationale. A clear example would be drunk driving, and unfortunately, individuals under the age of 21 are at twice the risk of being involved in a fatal drinking and driving accident than adults. 

In addition, substance use has many additional side effects, including: 

  • The increased dangers of using more than one substance at a time 
  • A greater potential for addiction in adulthood
  • Problems at school, like poor grades or low attendance
  • Issues with peers, such as withdrawal from activities and/or fighting with others
  • Being the victim or perpetrator of sexual or physical violence
  • Engaging in careless behavior, like vandalism, driving and sexual activity 
  • Greater risk for being involved in legal problems
  • Emotional/mental health struggles, including depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts

The good news is that substance abuse can be entirely preventable by knowing and appropriately responding to the risk factors when, and if, they arise.

What are the risk factors for teen substance use?

There is no one cause of substance abuse in teens; however, depending on the lifestyle of said teen, a number of risk factors may be present. These include:

  • Easy access – Approximately 50 percent of teens say that marijuana isn’t difficult to acquire
  • The home environment – Teens who live in a household with parents who abuse substances are much more likely to use than those whose parents do not
  • Peer pressure – Classmates, friends, etc. can play a big part in whether or not a teen develops a substance use disorder
  • A pre-existing mental health disorder – Commonly, substance use habits co-occur with depression, anxiety, PTSD, BPD and ADHD, to name a few
  • Experiences of physical, verbal and/or sexual abuse and/or trauma

Just because a teen has one or more of the above experiences or factors in their lives, it doesn’t automatically predispose them to develop a substance use disorder. Many teens, for example, suffer from a mental health disorder without it ever evolving into a substance use disorder. That being said, it’s still important to under the risk factors in order to better prevent substance abuse in the first place.

Preventing teen substance use

As with many things, talking about the dangers of substance abuse at home can significantly lessen the potential for a teen to use an illegal substance. Parents have a crucial responsibility in educating their children on the dangers of substances and the importance of avoiding them for the sake of their health, physically and mentally, as well as their future. Sadly, too many teens and young adults forget the impact one night of reckless drinking or drug use could have on the rest of their lives. 

However, hope is not lost and recovery is possible. Whether a young adult suffers from binge drinking or frequent drug use, or has engaged in the activity prior and is seeking help before it transforms into a lifelong problem, help is always available.

At Real Recovery, our therapists and counselors specifically keep in mind the characteristics of young adult development, and direct treatment to meet the individual needs of each person based on their stage in life. Complete recovery and freedom of the mind and body are not just the goals, but the expectation of clients seeking out help.

Contact us today by calling 855-363-7325 to put proven clinical substance use services to work in your life, or in the life of a loved one.