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What are the Effects of Drug Abuse on Youth? 

causes and effects of drug abuse among the youth

When a person uses drugs, a chemical reaction takes place within the brain. Depending on the drug, a user may experience a surge of dopamine (the “happy” hormone), which causes an intense wave of euphoria. Or, the drugs imitate the brain’s natural neurotransmitters and change the way a user’s body processes information. This can lead to an array of different effects, like powerful sensory experiences, feelings of relaxation, hallucinations, and changes in perception or sense of time. It can also trigger negative reactions, like panic and paranoia, increased body temperature, heart palpitations, breathing problems, and incoordination. These short-term effects of drug use will vary, depending on the type of drug used. However, drugs of abuse have something in common: they can pose the risk for long-term effects on a person’s physical and mental health. This is particularly true for youth, who are at a critical stage of brain development. 

Right now, you may be curious to learn about the long-term effects of drug abuse, and whether it is really posing a risk to your (or your loved one’s) health. You may be a parent of a teenager or young adult and concerned that their “recreational” drug use may lead to more serious consequences. No matter your situation, it is important to understand the effects of drug abuse on youth, and how that can impact one’s long-term health and well-being. This guide will break it all down for you. 

The Effects of Drug Abuse on Youth 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), substance abuse can affect the brain development and growth of youth. It can also lead to risky behaviors, like driving under the influence, and contribute to a series of serious health problems, both mental and physical. Drug abuse in adolescence can also heighten one’s risk for overdose, or lead to long-term problems with drug use. 

Of course, different drugs will have different effects on users. Some drugs, for example, are opioids, which pose risk for respiratory depression. Meanwhile, stimulant drugs like cocaine can cause heart attacks and strokes. Marijuana, on the other hand, poses risk for learning and memory deficits. These are just some examples of the risks and longer-term effects of drugs, generally.  

Below are examples of the common effects of drug abuse on young people. 

Physical Effects of Drug Use on Youth 

Again, the physical effects of drugs vary depending on the substance used. SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, cites the following, common health consequences of drugs: 

  • Physical Effects of Stimulants: 
    • Paranoia 
    • Dangerously high body temperatures 
    • Irregular heartbeat/heart palpitations 
    • Heart attack or failure 
    • Stroke  
    • Seizures 
    • Sleep disorders 
  • Physical Effects of Opioids
    • Drowsiness 
    • Nausea 
    • Slowed breathing 
    • Respiratory depression 
    • Hypoxia 
  • Physical Effects of Depressants: 
    • Slurred speech 
    • Shallow breathing 
    • Fatigue 
    • Disorientation 
    • Lack of coordination 
    • Seizures upon withdrawal 
  • Physical Effects of Marijuana Use: 
    • Impairment in memory, learning, concentration, and problem-solving 
    • Hallucinations 
    • Paranoia  
    • Psychosis later in life (associated with early use) 

Mental Effects of Drug Use on Youth 

  • Poor Judgment:  

A short-term effect of drug use, teens under the influence will display poor judgment. This is due to the effects that drugs have in the brain. Poor judgement may carry through to personal choices and social interactions. 

  • Declines in Academic Performance:  

Substance use in youth often leads to poor academic performance. Those who use drugs often skip school, struggle with concentration, or are not able to retain information as quickly or easily. Additionally, studies show that teens who use drugs experience reduced motivation, which can play a role in their overall performance a school. 

  • Dependence on Drugs:  

Research shows that youth who use drugs at an early age – specifically before their brains are developed – will develop an increased risk for substance dependency. This is because adolescents’ and young adults’ brains are not fully developed. When drugs are introduced at an early age, they interfere with the brain’s progress. They change the chemical makeup, and commonly will create a sense of dependency on drugs to function or feel good. Teens who use drugs regularly are likely to develop a substance addiction later in life. 

  • Mental Health Disorders:  

Similarly, when drugs interfere with the brain’s development at a young age, there becomes an increased risk for mental health disorders. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that “mental health problems such as depression, developmental lags, apathy, withdrawal, and other psychosocial dysfunctions frequently are linked to substance abuse among adolescents.” Additionally, youth who use drugs are at greater risk of developing conduct problems, violent behaviors, suicidal thoughts, attempted suicide, and self-harm behaviors.  

Other Long-Term Risks of Drug Use for Youth 

In addition to the physical and mental effects of teen drug use, there are many negative consequences that drugs can bring to a young person’s life. When drugs are used, it changes the way the brain thinks, rationalizes, controls impulses, and makes decisions. It interferes with a person’s ability to make good choices. Therefore, teens become more likely to make rash decisions, without thinking about the long-term costs. Teens who use drugs are more likely to experience the following negative effects. 

  • Legal Effects of Drugs: 
    • Criminal records that cannot be expunged 
    • Car accidents due to impaired driving 
    • DUI charges 
    • Assault charges 
  • Social Effects of Drugs: 
    • Damaged relationships with friends and family due to drug and alcohol use 
    • Withdrawal from family, friends, and once-loved activities 
    • Sexually transmitted diseases, due to unprotected sex 
    • Unplanned pregnancies, also due to unprotected sex 
    • Increased risk of violent behaviors and fights 
  • Effects of Drugs on Professional Life: 
    • Negative attitude towards work, school, or other obligations 
    • Wasted academic opportunities 
    • Delayed or deferred career opportunities 
    • Skipping out on work and school obligations 
    • Dropping out of school and other discipline problems 
    • Financial loss and distress, for those who become addicted to drugs 

The effects of drugs listed in this blog are by no means exhaustive, but this guide is designed to show you just some of the many negative effects that drugs can have on adolescents and young adults. 

Most significantly, substance use – particularly at a young age – can lead to fatal consequences. As reported by the Office of Justice Programs, “Disproportionate numbers of youth involved with alcohol and other drugs face an increased risk of death through suicide, homicide, accident, and illness.”  

If you or your loved one is using drugs or considering using drugs, know that the effects can be serious and critical. It is up to you to educate yourself, seek help, and make a difference. If you are concerned about your loved one’s drug use, and specifically its development into a mental health or addictive disorder, please do not hesitate to seek help. Early intervention can be vital to your loved one’s health and well-being. It is never too early to seek treatment, but it can be too late. 

Parents can play a critical role in helping their children onto a healthier path. If you are a parent, the best way to help your teen in this moment is to create an open dialogue at home. Talk to your teen about the dangers of drug use and the risks of drugs on their health. Ask your teen questions, such as have they ever tried drugs, or do their friends use drugs? These open, honest, and non-judgmental questions can establish a sense of trust between parents and their children. This, in turn, can help you become a greater support, alliance, and advocate for your child when they need you most. 

Learn about the common causes of teen drug use here. 

If your child is displaying concerning signs of drug abuse, dependence, or other mental health issues, the best thing you can do is seek help. Talk to your family doctor or reach out to a treatment professional. Turnbridge is just one call away. We are a mental health and addiction treatment center for youth, with dedicated programs for adolescents, young men, and young women struggling. We are here for you. Call 877-581-1793 to learn more.