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High school is a time for experimentation. Teenangers are known for believing they are invincible and tend to push boundaries to the absolute limit. This does not exclude boundaries with drugs and alcohol. According to sadd.org, 72 percent of high schoolers have consumed alcohol by the end of their senior year and of those more than a third have done so by 8th grade. Drugabuse.gov states that 34.9 percent of 12th grades have used or continue to use marijuana in some form. Much of this activity occurs because neither substance appears to leave any significant damage, which then translates to teenagers that drugs and alcohol are “safe” to use. On the contrary, internal injuries, especially to the brain, are occurring. A recent survey of Coronado teens stated that (statistic) participate in drinking and/or smoking. Because this is such a prevalent issue on the island, it is important that both parents are their teens understand the specific effects of these substances and how long the impact may last.

Alcohol and its effects on the teenage brain

How it affects the body:

  • The liver is the organ that breaks down alcohol and other toxins that enter the body. Too much alcohol may cause long-term damage such as alcoholic hepatitis or cirrhosis, two types of liver disease.

  • The brain is also affected by excessive amounts of alcohol. When alcohol cannot be broken down fast enough is distributed to the rest of the body. Parts of the brain that control speech, memory and motor movements are all affected by alcohol. Slurred speech, difficulty walking, slower reaction time, and lapsed or complete loss of memory are only a few of the signs of having had too much to drink.

  • The heart experiences changes under the influence as well. Heavy drinkers often adopt high blood pressure, which in turn increases risk for heart disease.

  • Hormonal imbalances may also occur when drinking during adolescence. Due to the significant amount of changes that are going on in a teens body during puberty, alcohol may effect the horomone balance within the body which in turn could cause problems with the development of organs, bones and muscles.

Reasons why your teen might be drinking:

  1. The risk factor: as teens mature they begin to feel a sense of independence. Alcohol provides them with an outlet in which they get to make their own decision, although most do not understand the risks and consequences associated with it. Have punishments set for what will happen if your child is caught drinking and be sure they are clear as to what is and is not allowed. This will eliminate any grey area and lessen their chance of trying to get away with drinking.

  2. Peer pressure: one of the greatest struggles as a teenager is to find acceptance. For some teens, this means participating in activities that are viewed as “cool” in order to better fit in. Remind your teen they can always use you as an excuse not to drink, and that any friend worth having should respect their decision not to drink.

  3. Stress: in high school, everything feels like the end of the world. Trying to deal with the constant stress of social pressures as well as the seemingly endless amount of work, teens may seek a way to escape the hecticness. Try and help your teen not feel as overwhelmed by offering to help them schedule their work and activities. If you make a schedule, be sure to enforce it so they do not procrastinate and end up overwhelmed anyways.

Recognizing the signs of underage drinking:

  • Academic and/or behavioral problems in school

  • Changing groups of friends

  • Less interest in activities and/or appearance

  • Finding alcohol among a young person’s things or smelling alcohol on their breath

  • Slurred speech

  • Coordination problems

  • Memory and/or concentration problems

For additional statistics on underage drinking, click here.

Marijuana and its effects on the teenage brain

Scientific Information:

What is Marijuana?

  • Most widely used illicit drug in the United States

  • Also referred to as Cannabis, a plant grown for its psychoactive properties

  • The main psychoactive chemical is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol

  • Various methods of consumption  

  • Legality: Currently illegal to buy, sell, or carry under federal law, but it has recently been legalized in several individual states

Its effects on the brain:

  • When smoked, THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) quickly passes from the lungs to the bloodstream and is then carried throughout the body

  • Upon entering the brain, the THC attaches itself to neurons with specific receptors called cannabinoid receptors

  • These receptors influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movements. The THC creates an increase in the activity of the endocannabinoid system, which releases dopamine into the brain’s reward centers, creating the pleasurable “high” that is associated with the use of the drug

  • Certain parts of the brain contain greater numbers of cannabinoid receptors, which causes them to be more influenced by the THC (These areas include the hippocampus, the cerebellum, the basal ganglia and the cerebral cortex)


**link containing pdf of the brain and how marijuana affects specific parts of the brain (what is the endocannabinoid system and how does it work)

  • In the hippocampus, THC alters how information is processed which can therefore lead to memory impairment. It may also increase the speed at which an individual loses their hippocampal neurons, which allow for new information to be learned

  • In the cerebellum, THC affects movement and coordination, causing one’s balance and motor abilities to be impaired

  • In the basal ganglia, which is involved with movement, THC causes a delay in reaction time

  • In areas of the frontal cortex, THC causes impairment in decision making and judgement, which can have seriously dangerous and even fatal consequences

Short and long term effects:

Short term, smaller doses:

  • Poor memory and impaired learning abilities

  • Difficulty problem solving

  • Delayed reaction time

  • Food cravings

  • Altered sense of time and space

  • Poor decision making

Short term, larger doses:

  • Hallucinations

  • Delusions

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

Long term:

  • Cancer, due to marijuana containing the same cancer-causing chemicals that are found in tobacco

  • Difficulty breathing, again due to similar properties to tobacco, which cause wheezing and coughing

  • Weakened immune system, THC damages the cells and tissues that may be needed in disease prevention

  • Fertility, reproductive hormones are decreased

Drug use among teens in the US:

  • According to this year’s (2016) Monitoring the Future survey of drug use and attitudes towards drugs amongst American 8th, 10th and 12th graders, there has actually been a decrease in drug and alcohol use over the past 5 years. However the use of marijuana specifically has remained steady, with the majority of high school seniors believing that the occasional use of marijuana is generally not harmful. Among the 12th graders surveyed, the percent of prevalence of marijuana was 34.9 percent. 79.5 percent of high schoolers also believe that marijuana is easy to obtain.

Is marijuana addictive?

  • In extreme cases, yes, marijuana can be addictive. Abuse of the drug can lead to the development of a marijuana use disorder, which is less extreme than addiction. Recent studies show that those who use the drug under the age of 18 are 4-7 times more likely to develop a disorder compared to the likelihood of an adult.

The American Psychological Association recently published an article exploring the effects of marijuana specifically on the human brain. With an increasing amount of states legalizing recreational use of marijuana, the article looks to define both the advantages and disadvantages in using the drug. Research on marijuana supports that it may be successful at treating various types of medical conditions including pain, muscle spasms, seizure disorders, and nausea from chemotherapy. However, marijuana includes a potentially harmful ingredient called tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. This component is what can lead to both short and long term damage if the drug is used irresponsibly. To learn more about the development of the teenage brain and the changes that may occur if it is exposed to significant amounts of THC, click here.

The above information was sourced from the following websites: 










Additional Sources:

How to Prevent Drug Use At Every Age: Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

KidsHealth.org: Kids & Alcohol

Partnership for Drug-Free Kids: Parent Toolkit

Partnership for Drug-Free Kids: Guides & Resources

DrugAbuse.gov: Drugs &  Your Kids

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration: Parent Resources

Drug Free World: Drug Education Resources

Recovery.org: Recovery Centers Near Coronado