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Finally, an adolescent’s inherited genetic vulnerability; personality traits like poor impulse control or a high need for excitement; mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, or ADHD; and beliefs such as that drugs are “cool” or harmless make it more likely that an adolescent will use drugs.Images of Brain Development in Healthy Children and Teens (Ages 5-20) The brain continues to develop through early adulthood.The adolescent brain is often likened to a car with a fully functioning gas pedal (the reward system) but weak brakes (the prefrontal cortex).
Exposure to stress (such as emotional or physical abuse) in childhood primes the brain to be sensitive to stress and seek relief from it throughout life; this greatly increases the likelihood of subsequent drug abuse and of starting drug use early.
In fact, certain traits that put a person at risk for drug use, such as being impulsive or aggressive, manifest well before the first episode of drug use and may be addressed by prevention interventions during childhood.
By the time they are seniors, almost 70 percent of high school students will have tried alcohol, half will have taken an illegal drug, nearly 40 percent will have smoked a cigarette, and more than 20 percent will have used a prescription drug for a nonmedical purpose.
There are many reasons adolescents use these substances, including the desire for new experiences, an attempt to deal with problems or perform better in school, and simple peer pressure.
Drug use has compromised the very parts of the brain that make it possible to “say no.” Not all young people are equally at risk for developing an addiction.
Various factors including inherited genetic predispositions and adverse experiences in early life make trying drugs and developing a substance use disorder more likely.This affects their ability to weigh risks accurately and make sound decisions, including decisions about using drugs.For these reasons, adolescents are a major target for prevention messages promoting healthy, drug-free behavior and giving young people encouragement and skills to avoid the temptations of experimenting with drugs.This creates an especially strong drive to repeat the experience.The immature brain, already struggling with balancing impulse and self-control, is more likely to take drugs again without adequately considering the consequences.If the experience is repeated, the brain reinforces the neural links between pleasure and drug-taking, making the association stronger and stronger.Soon, taking the drug may assume an importance in the adolescent’s life out of proportion to other rewards.By the same token, a range of factors, such as parenting that is nurturing or a healthy school environment, may encourage healthy development and thereby lessen the risk of later drug use.Drug use at an early age is an important predictor of development of a substance use disorder later.The majority of those who have a substance use disorder started using before age 18 and developed their disorder by age 20.The likelihood of developing a substance use disorder is greatest for those who begin use in their early teens.