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Psychological Effects of Drug Use in Adolescents

author image Catherine Schaffer
Catherine Schaffer has been writing since 1990. Her articles have appeared in many medical journals and textbooks. Schaffer holds a Bachelor of Science from Baylor College of Medicine and a physician assistant certificate. She has written health and nutrition articles for various websites and teaches movement and nutrition to help women overcome chronic diseases and obesity.
Psychological Effects of Drug Use in Adolescents
Millions of high school students are abusing pain relievers.

In 2008, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIDA, 31 million people 12 and older admitted to driving under the influence of alcohol at least once during the year. Nearly 2.2 million high school students had abused pain relievers for the first time in 2009. Teens are unaware of the serious psychological effects of drug abuse.

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According to DrugFree, not all teens who are depressed abuse drugs, and not all drug using teens are depressed. Twenty percent of teens experience a major depressive disorder at some time during adolescence. Many teens who are depressed haven't received medical attention for their depression and remain undiagnosed. When teens are depressed, they self medicate. Marijuana is often used to relieve anxiety and to “feel better." But according to a report from Parents:TheAntiDrug, this misconception could cost teens their lives. Marijuana worsens depression and can lead to other mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia or suicide.


Addiction is a complex condition of the brain. A teen’s brain is more susceptible to the influence of drugs because it's still developing, and chemical pathways are interrupted when a teen uses drugs. Drugs interfere with the ability to think clearly, use cognitive skills and control behavior. Under the influence of peer pressure, teens try an illicit drug and find they like the high. Continued use alters brain chemistry and neurological pathways until addiction develops. The drug becomes the most important thing in a teen’s life. Teens who are more likely to become addicted to drugs are those with a family history of addiction, teens who have suffered abuse or neglect, teens who use drugs early and those with mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.

High-Risk Behaviors

According to Parents:TheAntidrug, 23 percent of sexually active high school girls had used alcohol or drugs during their last sexual encounter. These same youths say they didn't use protection because they were high. Adolescents who use drugs are more likely to have multiple sexual partners; some prostitute themselves to acquire drugs. Substance abuse may be related to higher rates of unintended pregnancies because of decreased condom use. Because drugs alter perception, teens act impulsively and risk driving while under the influence, having unprotected sex and sharing drug paraphernalia.

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