How Marijuana and Alcohol Can Harm Development of Teens - ATS

What Are the TRUE Dangers of Alcohol and Marijuana Use in Teens?

Last updated on July 1st, 2019 at 12:55 pm

What are TRUE Dangers of Alcohol and Marijuana Use In Teens - Addiction Treatment Services

Drug abuse is a widespread issue in the United States, reaching across all demographics, regions and social groups. Education and awareness are crucial to preventing new addiction cases and their effects, but there are many half-truths and unhelpful scare tactics prohibiting effective deterrence.

Most teens and young adults can easily see through these half-truths, leading them to mistakenly believe there are no real dangers of alcohol and marijuana use because the advocacy appears contrived or inaccurate. We want to provide talking points based on science instead.

Truth Is the Best Tool to Fight Teen Substance Abuse

Instead of sensationalized myths about alcohol and marijuana, parents, teachers, advocates and anyone else who may influence a teen’s decision to experiment with drugs should rely on facts. Some of the myths perpetuated about marijuana and alcohol do more harm than good, so refer to actual studies when speaking to teens about alcohol and marijuana.

Consider the following studies, and tell your teen about the real effects marijuana and alcohol might have.

Impaired Brain Cell Growth

A 2017 study from the Research Society on Alcoholism reports that drinking during adolescence can impair brain-cell nerve growth. Chronic exposure to alcohol appears to create strong alterations to different areas of the brain. Some areas of the brain are highly susceptible to alteration or damage from alcohol exposure, and consumption early in life can have significant negative effects later.

Cannabis Can Exacerbate Depression

Although researchers have debunked many of the myths surrounding marijuana’s effects, it is important to recognize the legitimate problems marijuana use can create for teens. A 2017 University of Washington Health Sciences study concluded that cannabis use during adolescence can exacerbate an existing depression condition. Children with early signs of depression are more likely to develop cannabis-use disorders later in life.

Substance Abuse Can Worsen Body Image Issues

Percentage of Teens Who Have Driven Under Influence of Marijauna Statistic - Addiction Treatment ServicesPeople are generally more susceptible to developing body image issues during adolescence.

During this time, people undergo many physical, mental and emotional changes. Drug abuse can easily interrupt these growing experiences and cause teens to develop unhealthy ideas about their bodies. Over time, this can create eating disorders and other psychological problems, including substance abuse.

A 2017 University of Missouri-Columbia study confirmed that body image issues increase the likelihood of developing substance abuse problems among teens. The study also concluded that perceived attractiveness impacts drug abuse rates.

The research indicated:

  • Teenage girls who believe they are very attractive are more likely to drink.
  • Teenage girls who believe they are unattractive are more likely to smoke.

Teen Binge Drinking Can Cause Brain Damage

A 2017 Frontiers study concluded that binge drinking among teens is associated with thinning of some brain tissues and hindered growth in some areas of the brain. Individuals who binge drink as teens may suffer from memory problems, attention deficit disorder, awareness issues and other problems.

These brain alterations not only leave these individuals more susceptible to alcohol-related disorders in the future but also many other neurological problems.

Teen Cannabis Use Leads to Higher Risk of Later Illicit Drug Use

Many people mistakenly refer to marijuana as “the gateway drug,” but the study that coined the term concluded that tobacco was the actual gateway drug most likely to encourage youth to experiment with other substances later.

Researchers at the University of Bristol recently released a study that indicates regular cannabis use among teens indeed leads to a greater risk of illicit drug use in the future.

The study found that teens who smoke cannabis regularly are:

  • 37 times more likely to smoke cigarettes;
  • 26 times more likely to experiment with other illicit drugs; and
  • 3 times more likely to develop drinking habits than non-cannabis-using teens.

Kids in Prestigious Schools More Likely to Experiment with Drugs

A University of Arizona study released findings that indicate students who attend high-achieving academic institutions appear to be more susceptible to drug abuse. This is a multifaceted issue involving academic stress, societal demands, privilege, and accessibility.

Children who feel pressured to succeed are more apt to use drugs to combat stress and fatigue. Some students may also use drugs as performance enhancers, which may lead to addiction over time.

Marijuana Use Linked to Bad Grades

Adolescence is a critical time for educational success, and teens who experiment with drugs and alcohol are more likely to suffer the academic consequences of addiction. A 2017 University of Waterloo study concluded that teens who regularly use marijuana are less likely to earn strong grades.

Students who responded in the study demonstrated that smoking cannabis just once per month were:

  • 4 times more likely to skip class;
  • 2 to 4 times more likely to neglect homework; and
  • Half as likely to earn good grades as nonsmokers.

Early Marijuana Use Increases Risk of Negative Effects Later

A 2017 Colorado University study’s results indicate that the earlier a person starts using cannabis, the more significant the effects are later in life.

The study noted the following changes in early marijuana smokers:

  • Respiratory issues
  • Diminished IQ
  • Limited academic success
  • Memory loss
  • Other cognitive impairments

Delaying Marijuana Use Until 17 Limits Damage

The University of Montreal conducted a study aimed at determining the most at-risk age group for the negative effects of cannabis consumption. The study concluded that avoiding marijuana until at least age 17 limits the possibility of permanent damage or complications caused by extended use.

The study’s results indicated that adolescents who waited until at least age 17 to try marijuana were at an equivalent risk of developing these medical issues as nonsmokers.

Helping Teens Before It’s Too Late

It is crucial for families to realize the need for early intervention when it comes to drug and alcohol abuse. Seeking treatment sooner can limit the effects substance abuse can have on teens, and learning healthier coping strategies early in life is incredibly beneficial.

Reach out to us if you have concerns about teen alcohol or marijuana use. It’s imperative to separate fact from fiction to prevent teens from succumbing to the negative effects of substance abuse.

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Article Reviewed by Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPA

Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPADr. Keerthy Sunder, MD is an accomplished and internationally recognized expert in the field of addiction. He has earned diplomates from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the American Board of Addiction Medicine, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.