• Adolescents & Addiction: How Addiction Affects Teenagers

Adolescents & Addiction: How Addiction Affects Teenagers

Table of Contents

Most people are first exposed to drugs and alcohol during early adolescent or teen years, resulting in a serious concern for drug and alcohol misuse. During this stage, adolescents are still developing life-skills, understanding the world, themselves, and continuing to develop both mentally and physically. Repeated exposures to drugs and alcohol can greatly impact their overall growth and trajectory of their lives.

Symptoms of Addiction in Teenagers

In 2018, nearly 28% of students in grades 8-12 reported having used an illicit drug at some point in their lives. That same year just under 19% of that age group had at least one alcoholic beverage the month prior to the survey. 12% of students surveyed reported that they had three or more drinks and became intoxicated within the past 30 days. 

While experimentation with drugs and alcohol plays a large role in teenage drug use and abuse, it does not mean all will become addicts or alcoholics. If you fear you or your adolescent child is suffering from a substance use disorder, it’s imperative to understand the risk factors, signs, and substances that have a high potential of abuse, which can ultimately be life threatening. Some signs and symptoms can include the following:

  • Loss of interest in school or extracurricular activities
  • Decline in grades
  • Change in attitude
  • Sneaking out, stealing money, or denying alcohol or drug use
  • A decline in appearance or grooming
  • Acting defensive or lying

Drugs of Choice for Adolescents


As the most commonly used drug by teens, alcohol can seem fun and harmless. However, research notes that impulsive behavior in males increases after periods of heavy drinking. This can result in more episodes of heavy alcohol use.


According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 1 in 6 people start using marijuana as a teen, and 25% to 50% of those who use it become addicted to marijuana.

Prescription Drugs

In 2017, 1 in 7 teens surveyed said they have taken a prescription drug without a doctor’s prescription.


In recent years, teenage vaping has become extremely common among teens and adolescents. In 2019, about 12 of every 100 middle school students, and about 31 of every 100 high school students reported  current use of a tobacco product. In 2019, nearly 1 of every 4 middle school students and over half of high school students said they have tried a tobacco product.

The Effects of Drug Use on An Adolescents Brain

Scientists who specialize in youth and health development have discovered that during the adolescent years, drastic spurts of physical and intellectual development occur. Some brain functions are forming at extremely fast rates as the brain grows in young people. A teenage individual undergoes biological and psychological changes during adolescence and the use of drugs can negatively impact this. Young people who use drugs have a much higher risk of becoming addicted. Since their brains are still developing they are far more susceptible to the powerful mood and mind-altering properties of drugs and alcohol.

Adolescent years are essential for good cognitive function and development. During a person’s younger years, it is essential to keep a rigid standard of healthy conduct. Moderate to severe drug use can affect the capacity of the brain to work in the short-term as well as stop adequate growth and development in subsequent life. Teens who abuse drugs will interfere with their neurotransmitters by damaging connections with the brain. They will also reduce their ability to experience pleasure when not under the influence of drugs. Memory issues are quite common as well as inhibiting the development  of perceptual abilities. 

Addiction Risk Factors for Adolescents

Being a teenager isn’t easy. There’s a variety of physical and mental changes that occur on an everyday basis. While most adolescents first come to experiment with alcohol and drugs at an early age, mood swings, rebellion, and a number of other specific risk factors can also contribute to more severe substance use and misuse. These include the following:

Peer Pressure

Some adolescents will use substances to conform to peer pressure, fit in, and feel accepted by their peers. Some adolescents can find themselves using substances as an easy way to make friends or feel the need to use them to not be left out. 

Family & Trauma

Teens who have experienced trauma, been abused, or have had tough experiences early in life can be more likely to have problems with drugs and  alcohol. Young people are also at a greater risk than other adolescents if their family members have been through an addiction, their mother used drugs or alcohol during pregnancy, or they haven’t had the guidance of a parent or guardian.

Life Transitions

Significant periods of transitions in a teens life such as moving, puberty, divorce, changing schools, or illness and death can contribute to using substances as an adolescent as a coping skill.

Co-Occurring Disorders

There are a number of adolescents who will turn to mind-altering substances as a way to cope with an underlying mental health issue that may be present. Some of these can include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar Disorders
  • Personality Disorders
  • Mood Disorders
  • Thought Disorders

Signs You or Your Adolescent May Have a Substance Use Disorder

Recognizing the signs and ways to prevent substance use disorder can disrupt your adolescent’s addiction before it begins. As a parent, guardian, teacher, or any other influential adult in a teenager’s life, there  are signs you can watch for that may indicate involvement with alcohol or drugs. Here are some common warning signs associated with drug use. 

  • Early aggressive behavior
  • Poor classroom behavior or social skills
  • Academic failure
  • Association with a bad crowd
  • Change in eating or sleeping habits
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities

Adolescent Addiction Treatment & Help For Teens

Nobody who struggles with substance use disorder should have to try and overcome their issues alone. This is especially true for adolescent drug use. Adolescents require a specific type of care that is different from the treatment that adults will receive. Young people need to not only learn how to overcome their drug use problems, but also how to live their life without using substances. They additionally must learn essential life skills that many adults already understand. 

If you are a teen using drugs and realize you may have a problem, it is crucial to go to a parent, teacher, school counselor or other trusted adult. If you are a parent of an adolescent using or misusing drugs, your first step is to get in contact with a physician or addiction treatment provider. 

The trend for adolescent drug use is on the downward slide and with more parental involvement, teen education programs, and adults being on the lookout for warning signs, we can help this number continue to decrease. 

Whether you have more questions about the warning signs of teen drug use or need help finding a rehab center near you, we can help. Do not try to do this alone. Help is available. 

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Addiction Resources for Adolescents

The Devastating Effects of Underage Drinking

5 Crucial Tips To Help Address Your Teen’s Substance Abuse

The Facts About Teen Drug Use

Hear from people who took control of substance use in their teens.

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