While drug abuse is detrimental at any age, it is especially harmful to teens, who are still developing psychologically and physically. And yet, kids taking drugs is a serious problem. Statistics show that in spite of educational campaigns, drug abuse among teens continues. In 2016, 35.6% of high school seniors reported using marijuana, with 6% using it daily, and 14.3% reported using illegal drugs other than marijuana. In 2015, 4,235 young adults died of drug overdose. For the many more who make it through adolescence, the impact of drug abuse as a teen can last into adulthood.
Effects of Drug Use as a Teen
- Stunted Development: One of the most devastating consequences of teen drug abuse is stunted development: socially, emotionally, and physical development of the brain. Drug use can causes actual brain damage, leaving former drug users with memory loss, inability to focus, or learning disabilities. Other damage is caused by learning opportunities lost due to drug use. Teens should learn through experience how to solve interpersonal problems, communicate effectively, and set appropriate boundaries—emotional and social skills that may not develop in teens using drugs. Time spent using drugs robs a teen of time spent developing appropriately, leaving the adult lagging behind his or her peers.
- Legal Consequences: Convictions as a teen for driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, or other alcohol- and drug-related offenses, can haunt an adult, especially if these convictions took place when over the age of 18. Convictions can affect acceptance into college, and students with drug-related convictions have limited eligibility for federal financial aid. Later in life, previous drug use may impact a person’s ability to find a job, as employers may frown on past drug use.
- Unintended Pregnancies & Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs): In 2015, 30% of high school students reported having sex in the past 3 months, and of those, roughly 21% reported using drugs or alcohol beforehand, 40% did not use a condom, and 14% did not use any type of birth control. Unprotected sex can easily result in pregnancy or the transmission of STDs, some of which have no cure, such as Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), herpes, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), and hepatitis C.
- Sexual Impotence and Infertility: Substance abuse can cause decreased fertility in women and lower sperm count in men. Both genders can experience a decline in sexual arousal and pleasure from drug abuse.
- Chemical Imbalances and Mental Issues: Drug use during teen years affects the developing brain, causing anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders in adulthood. People who are addicted to drugs are more than twice as likely as the rest of the population to suffer from mood disorders, although some of the cases can be explained as people with a mood disorder self-medicating with illegal drugs. Nevertheless, addiction changes normal brain chemistry and pathways, substituting typical want and need pathways with pathways for the want and need for drugs, and these changes are critical in the developing brain of a teen.
What to Do as a Parent
While these consequences are daunting, they do not have to be a cause for despair. Parents have a profound influence on their children. Keep tabs on your kids—know their friends, their activities, how they are doing in school. Talk to them and let them know they can talk to you. Learn the signs of drug abuse and seek help if your child exhibits them. If you think your teen has a drug problem, call 877-409-1598 for help.