https://www.thesoberworld.com/2019/10/01/drugs-and-the-black-american-songbook/Adolescent drug, tobacco and alcohol abuse is a pervasive problem around the world. Addiction and its medical consequences have been called the most costly health problem in America today. In the United States, nearly one in three teens and pre-teens have experimented with illegal drugs by the time they complete the 8th grade, and 40% have tried alcohol. 90 percent of adult addicts began in high school or earlier. The age of first drug use has moved downward: younger children are experimenting. Unfortunately, the danger for addiction increases greatly when children begin experimenting with drugs or alcohol before the age of 15.
Clinicians in the field known that addiction is difficult to treat because it is a chronic and relapsing condition like diabetes. Like diabetes, addiction begins with predisposition and personal behaviors at first and develops into a disease of the brain and body later in life. It is becoming appreciated that while addiction does not often manifest until adulthood, addiction begins in the teen and the pre-teen years.
Adolescence is a critical period of brain and emotional development psychologists have termed the “second individuation.” Brain development in adolescent is about as extensive as it is in infancy. These changes allow the adolescent to take on increasing control of his life. This second individuation ultimately prepares him for adulthood. Critical brain developments occur in the nucleus accumbens and the prefrontal cortex of the brain. The prefrontal cortex is critical in direct attention and in decision making. The nucleus accumbens has been called the motivation center of the brain. The nucleus accumbens is important to exploration, novelty-seeking, and risk-taking. The nucleus accumbens motivates us to seek out new experiences and repeat those things we have found enjoyable. It largely operates outside the conscious mind although it has a powerful influence on behavior. Adolescents are big risk takers. While they recognize the risks, they give the rewards in a situation more weight than adults do. This love of adventure is actually adaptive, as it leads to potentially useful life experiences. Succeeding in life requires risk taking. A related development in adolescence is the struggle for autonomy. Teens turn to peers for needs that were fulfilled by parents. Adolescents are social by nature and prefer to be around their peers. One reason for this is the sensitivity of the adolescent brain to a neural hormone When teens abuse drugs -why it matters when kids experiment with drugs and alcohol known as oxytocin that makes social connections rewarding. These adolescent developments are designed for increasing independence and eventual launching as an independent adult.
All enjoyable stimuli, including food and sex, activate the nucleus accumbens. The difference between natural pleasures and drugs is that the latter produce a more rapid and forceful stimulation of the nucleus accumbens – by about 10 fold. As the adolescent continues to use drugs and alcohol their attraction is increasingly drawn to the chemical stimulation of their motivation center. Negative consequences from substance abuse gradually lose their ability to deter the adolescent from the substance. The nucleus accumbens’ responsiveness at this stage leaves the adolescent vulnerable to addiction.
As drug use becomes regular, the addict develops increasingly negative mood because of the derangement of the nucleus accumbens and related brain structures. Taking more drugs becomes the surest way to feel “normal” again. A lifestyle focused on getting “high” develops. The changes in the brain gradually become entrenched and beyond “will power” to change. School, athletics, and hobbies become less important and eventually are given up. Personal growth during adolescence in frustration tolerance, emotional resiliency, the ability to relate to others, and self-control is postponed. Substance-abusing youth alienate themselves from non substance abusing peers leading them to socialize with delinquent peers. Alienation and rebelliousness lend themselves to substance abuse but also result from substance abuse.
Drug abuse leads to many other consequences beside addiction alone. Drug abusing teens experience declining grades, have more absenteeism from school, and are at risk for dropping out of school. Marijuana, for example, interferes with short-term memory, learning, and psychomotor skills. Chronic alcohol is notorious for causing irreversible harm to the brain with chronic use. Some amphetamines and some designer drugs and MDMA (Ecstasy) have been linked to irreversible brain changes. Many drugs harm physical health. Alcohol damages the liver, cocaine can cause strokes and heart attacks, tobacco harms both the vascular system and the lungs. Adolescents are also at risk for injuries due to accidents (such as car accidents and overdoses). Young people are overrepresented in alcohol-related car crashes. One study showed that 4 to 14 percent of drivers who are injured or die in traffic accidents test positive for THC. Teens who use drugs are five times more likely to have sex than teens who don’t use drugs. Teens that use drugs are also more likely to have unprotected sex and have sex with a stranger. Teens put themselves at risk for sexual assault. There is a higher risk of STDs (including HIV) and teen pregnancy among drug abusing teens. Arrest and intervention by the juvenile justice system are eventual consequences for many adolescents abusing drugs and/or alcohol. Substance abuse is associated with both violent and income-generating crimes by youth. More than 39 percent of youth under age 18 were under the influence of drugs at the time of their offense. Drug and alcohol abuse jeopardizes family life, often resulting in a family crisis. Siblings are profoundly affected and negatively influenced by alcohol- and drug- involved teens. Substance abuse can drain a family’s financial and emotional resources. The social and economic costs related to youth substance abuse are tremendous when the costs of medical, juvenile justice and treatment services for these youth are taken into account.
Many emotional and psychiatric conditions enable the development of drug addiction. Depression and bipolar disorder puts an adolescent at risk of developing a substance use disorder. Childhood trauma and abuse contribute to the development of substance abuse. Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) predisposes to substance abuse. Aggression and antisocial behaviors is strongly linked to substance abuse, especially in boys. In some instances, an adolescent might be medicating feeling of depression or anxiety but often drugs and alcohol worsen the underlying emotional condition. For example, teens that use marijuana weekly double their risk of depression and anxiety. Teens abusing drugs place themselves at the risk of developing suicidal thoughts, and at risk of attempting suicide.
In the absence of drugs and alcohol, adolescent development unfolds in a purposeful order. There is increasing autonomy and exploration because the adolescent brain is primed for openness to new and exciting experiences. In the end, an adult emerges who is both self-sufficient and responsible to those around him. If our adolescents can be kept from chemicals that hijack their developing brains our adolescents will be able to find themselves and reach their potential.