The Effects of Drugs on Teens

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    No matter what drug or how often, drug use can have negative impacts on teens. In a recent study, 27% of teens in high school admitted to at least one use of an illicit substance in their lifetime4. Illicit drug use can continue into adult years and cause additional problems.

    Addiction is not strictly an adult problem, and more teens are beginning to experiment and abuse drugs. Teens can begin drug use as an experiment or to fit in with peers, but continued use can lead to developing an addiction.

    Most Abused Drugs by Teens

    Teenage drug and alcohol abuse are common throughout the United States. Monitoring the Future’s long-term study looks at substance use among US adolescents yearly to identify emerging substance use problems and trends.

    According to the Monitoring the Future study, the most abused drugs by teens include4:


    Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit substance used by adolescents and teenagers. Marijuana being legal in some states throughout the US, although not federally legal, can make gaining access to this drug much easier. If teenagers use marijuana, they might experience decreased cognitive function and have issues concentrating on tasks they need to complete, such as cleaning their room or doing homework.

    Symptoms of marijuana abuse in teens:


    Alcohol is the most commonly used substance by adolescents and teenagers. Alcohol abuse can manifest in behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms. With alcohol being legal for adults 21+ and readily available, use and abuse increase.

    Symptoms of alcohol abuse in teens include:


    Vaping culture in the past few years has seen a rise in nicotine use among teenagers. Cigarette rates have declined since the 1970s due to the campaigns about the health risks and the rising prices of a pack of cigarettes.

    One in 5 high school students vapes, making this form of nicotine very popular among teenagers7. The new introduction of vaping can provide an easier option for consuming nicotine with no smell and ease in hiding consumption.


    There are a few ways that Narcan can be given to an individual who has overdosed. One of the more common ways is through nasal spray. 

    However, it can also get given intravenously or given intramuscularly. When given intramuscularly, it can get injected through clothes and into the muscle.

    Why Teens Misuse Drugs

    Several environmental and social variants can trigger a teen to start using. Sometimes what might start recreationally turns into something more severe that would need a professional’s help to stop.

    Alcohol and drug abuse among teens can begin as a social experiment. But as time continues, it morphs into something that can no longer be controlled.

    Family History of Drug Abuse

    While there isn’t a conclusive answer to the exact cause of teenage substance abuse, several studies have shown a correlation between drug abuse and genetics5. Having a family history of drug abuse can increase the chance of developing an addiction.

    Growing up in a household that participates in drug use and abuse can cause an assumption of the normalcy of these behaviors. Growing up in a specific environment can cause repeated behaviors that mimic the surrounding environment.

    Social Pressure

    As teens mature, one of the main factors that compel them to behave and do certain things is the pressure of people around them. Unfortunately, this sometimes means pressure to drink and engage in substance abuse. Before realizing it, drinking with peers can occur despite knowledge of the consequences or disgust with the taste.

    Using drugs during social situations can lead to addiction to substances. Using drugs alone and needing the substance to get through the day can occur once an addictive substance has been used.

    Being rejected by peers can cause feelings of loneliness and create a sense that using drugs is the only option to fit in. Not being accepted by other teenagers can cause teens to have lower self-esteem.

    Traumatic History

    Traumatic events in childhood are associated with the risk for illicit drug use among US adolescents1. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) can include abuse, neglect, and household challenges considered traumatic events during childhood. ACE is linked to multiple mental health disorders and addictions.

    Drug use in teens can be linked to childhood trauma and be used to avoid symptoms associated with trauma. The best thing to do when experiencing trauma is to seek help from a specialist that can help with processing emotions and thoughts. However, if the trauma is severe or a teenager doesn’t want to deal with what has happened, teens can find ways to block out the memories.

    Feelings can be numbed when under the influence, and traumatic memories can be pushed away. Instead of facing this trauma, running away from the memories can continue to cause negative effects. Traumatic memories can worsen from drug and alcohol use.

    Risk-Taking Behaviors

    Getting the drugs, preparing them, and doing them might provide an adrenaline rush. Secrecy around using drugs and hiding drug use from loved ones can also provide a rush. Participating in this risk-taking behavior can have dire consequences and become life-threatening if help is not received.

    Risky behaviors are often seen when using drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol can cause lowered inhibitions and behaviors that normally would not have been performed.

    Co-Occurring Disorders

    Mental disorders play a role in addiction and can increase the risk of using drugs and alcohol6. Medications for mental health disorders can sometimes cause numbness and the inability to feel emotions. At times, self-medication with drugs and alcohol can occur to treat mental health disorder symptoms.

    Medicating with drugs and alcohol is dangerous because it negatively affects the body, especially the brain. Self-medicating can cause the brain to take longer to heal from the damage of drugs and alcohol. Self-medicating can also worsen mental health disorder symptoms by increasing side effects.

    Short-Term Consequences of Prolonged Drug Use

    Prolonged drug use can create a multitude of adverse effects for teenagers. As an immediate response, teenagers can experience different symptoms based on the drug. However, over time with continued drug use, consequences can begin to appear.

    Increased Drug Dependence

    Teens and adults who abuse drugs for a prolonged period may need to increase the amount of substance taken to achieve the same euphoria. Each time, needing more of the drug can develop a tolerance and become dangerous.

    The longer the teenager is used, the higher the chances of becoming dependent on drugs later. Dependence and prolonged use can make it challenging to stop use and seek help when needed.

    As tolerance builds, turning to other drugs that do not cost as much may occur. Finding drugs that produce euphoria and are cheaper can cause an addiction. Without the tools and coping skills necessary, addiction can develop.

    Reckless Sexual Activity

    Drug use and alcohol abuse are linked to reckless sexual activity. A study showed a link between drug use and increased sexual behavior among young adults in the United States2.

    Drinking or taking drugs can decrease cognitive abilities. Agreeing to participate in activities that normally would not have been done can occur. Drinking and using drugs can cause cognitive abilities to decrease. Decreasing cognitive abilities can cause participation in behaviors outside of normal behaviors.

    Participating in sexual activities as a way of trading for drugs and alcohol needed can occur in teenagers when money is not accessible. Drug and alcohol use can also compromise safety due to a lack of awareness of surroundings and activities.

    Poor School Performance

    Sudden decreases in school performance can be a key sign of drug abuse in teenagers. An abrupt shift from good grades and regular attendance to bad grades and not going to school can show signs of drug abuse. Teens can stop participating in extracurricular activities and develop a new friend group which can be a sign of drug abuse.

    Long-Term Effects of Drugs on Youth

    There are several effects that drugs and alcohol can have on the bodies of the youth, both long and short-term. Early drug use may alter brain maturation, contribute to lasting cognitive impairments of certain functions, and increase susceptibility for developing a substance use disorder8. Drug use during adolescence may add to an increased risk of developing mental health disorders in adulthood.

    A total of 3,296 adolescents (aged 10-19 years) died of an unintentional drug overdose in the US between 2015 and 20193. Unintentional overdoses occurred when no harm was intended due to drug abuse, misuse, or taking too many drugs for medical reasons. The overall trend is toward more youth dying from an unintentional overdose in recent years.

    Do You Suspect Your Teen is Using Drugs?

    Before having a conversation about drug use with teens, ensure the conversation will not be interrupted by outside variables. More than one conversation is typicallhy needed about drug and alcohol abuse with a teenager.

    Turning off all distractions and starting the conversation with how much care and support the teen has can help get the conversation off on a good foot. Use methods of communication that come from a non-judgmental place to avoid the teenager going into defense mode.

    Resisting Peer Pressure

    Peer pressure can be a risk factor for using drugs or alcohol and developing an addiction. Learning how to fight peer pressure can reduce the risk of using drugs and alcohol. Managing difficult family issues, rejection, and rejection sensitivity with support can make it easier to resist peer pressure.

    Teens can withstand peer pressure by choosing peers who share similar values and opinions. Practice saying no to peers by being honest or coming up with an excuse. Having at least one friend who does not engage in drug and alcohol use can help with peer pressure in group settings.

    Provide Treatment Options

    Teenagers may deny that their drug and alcohol use has become a problem, but providing educational resources may benefit them. Discuss the different treatment facilities with programs available to help them get to the bottom of their drug and alcohol abuse.

    In treatment, teens can learn ways to cope with the underlying causes of addiction. Treatment programs provide therapy, medication management, and holistic care methods to help with recovery. Before presenting treatment options to teens, research facilities to help find a facility that fits individual needs.

    Finding a facility specializing in providing treatment to teenagers and young adults can benefit long-term recovery. Age-specific treatment can provide an environment surrounded by other teens experiencing similar challenges.

    Find Treatment for Teen Drug Abuse

    Teens abuse drugs and alcohol for many reasons, and what starts as an experiment can turn into an addiction. Alcohol, marijuana, prescriptions, and nicotine are commonly abused by teenagers. Finding treatment can be the best chance for teens to have a long-lasting recovery. 

    If you or a teen you love are struggling with drug abuse, reach out to ReAlign Detox. Our admissions team can help you find treatment and answer any questions.

    ReAlign Detox offers detox treatment to individuals who are 18 years or older. However, if you or your loved one are under 18 years old, we can help you find a treatment center that best fits your needs.

    1. Carliner, H., Keyes, K. M., McLaughlin, K. A., Meyers, J. L., Dunn, E. C., & Martins, S. S. (2016, August). Childhood trauma and illicit drug use in adolescence: A population-based National Comorbidity Survey Replication–Adolescent Supplement Study. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Retrieved April 22, 2022, from
    2. Graves, K. L., & Leigh, B. C. (2016, December 6). The relationship of substance use to sexual activity among young adults in the United States. Guttmacher Institute. Retrieved April 22, 2022, from
    3. Hall, T., Trimble, C., Garcia, S., Entrup, P., Deaner, M., & Treater, J. (2022, January 31). Unintentional drug overdose mortality among adolescents and young people in the US, 2015-2019. JAMA Pediatrics. Retrieved April 22, 2022, from
    4. Johnston, L. D., Miech, R. A., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E., & Patrick, M. E. (2022). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use 1975-2021: Overview, key findings on adolescent drug use. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan. Retrieved April 22, 2022, from
    5. NIDA. (2019, August). Genetics and epigenetics of Addiction Drugfacts. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved April 22, 2022, from
    6. NIMH. (2021, March). Substance use and co-occurring mental disorders. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved April 22, 2022, from
    7. Salloum, R. G., Thompson, L., & Tan, A. S. L. (2021, April 1). What parents need to know about teen vaping and what they can do about it. JAMA Pediatrics. Retrieved April 22, 2022, from
    8. Winters, K. C., & Arria, A. (2012, July 18). Adolescent brain development and drugs. The prevention researcher. Retrieved April 22, 2022, from