Two Reasons Why Teens’ Developing Brains Are Wired For Addiction

Posted on 22. Jan, 2014 by in Alcohol & Drug Abuse

Teen use of alcohol, cigarettes, and illegal drugs should be a constant source of concern for everybody involved in any teenager’s life. The younger a child begins experimenting with addictive substances, the more damage those substances can do. Even a single use of a harmful substance can create an addiction that is difficult to overcome. Many people wonder why teens are easily addicted. Two important answers lie in the development of teens’ brains.

Human brains do not finish developing until early adulthood, generally the early or mid-twenties. However, development is not uniform across all areas of the brain. The parts of the brain that receive and interpret natural pleasure chemicals such as dopamine finish developing during teenage years. On the other hand, the parts of the brain that interpret consequences and stimulate self-discipline are the last to mature. This partially mature brain creates a recipe for why teens are easily addicted to alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes. The chemicals in these addictive substances replace dopamine and stimulate pleasurable feelings. Yet, the immature self-discipline and planning part of the brain lacks the control it needs to compare consequences with the pleasure.

A second reason that teens are wired for addiction is that their developing brains are actively making new connections that are necessary for mature brain activity. When harmful chemicals invade a developing brain, the new connections become distorted and form in a way that makes the brain chemically dependent on the addictive substance. One example of this distortion is the production and reception of dopamine. Key receptors that are forming in teens’ brains should connect the release of dopamine with positive long-term decisions such breaking addictions and planning for their futures. Drugs can interrupt both the production and the reception of dopamine permanently. Young drug users may never develop healthy dopamine receptors in the part of their brains that deals with planning. This can create a serious and permanent hurdle in their abilities to make long-term decisions.

Parents can help their children by explaining to them why teens are easily addicted and by helping them avoid addiction.For teens who have already begun drug use, there is always hope. The sooner a teen stops using addictive substances, the more likely they are to make a complete recovery. Any teen suspected of using harmful substances should be immediately taken to see rehabilitation specialists who can help break the addiction.

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