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Article Summary

Teen Drug Use Consequences

Substance use and abuse can result in the poor school performance, health problems (including addiction), accidents, unplanned behavior, and involvement with the juvenile justice system. Additionally, there are consequences for family members, the community, and the entire society.

School Performance

Chronic drug abusers often experience an array of problems at school including declining grades, absenteeism, increased drop-out rates, and withdrawal from healthy extracurricular activities. Cognitive and behavioral problems experienced by drug-users can interfere not only with their academic performance, but also present obstacles to learning for their classmates.

Health Risks

Drug abuse can adversely affect every major system in the human body.

Behavioral and psychological. A single episode with a drug or chronic use can change a person's behavior significantly. Under the influence, school performance can decline, accidents, violence and other unplanned activities can occur. Abuse can also progress to addiction, a persistent uncontrollable compulsion to use a drug(s), loss of control over drug use, reducing life-sustaining activities and social pursuits, health and other adverse consequences. Cocaine, marijuana, opioids like heroin, amphetamine, methamphetamine, and many other drugs are addictive. No one starts using drugs to become addicted, but once addicted, a brain disease sets in. The addicted person looses control, judgment and when the drug is withdrawn, may suffer severe psychological or physical symptoms. These range from anxiety, irritability, unhappiness, stress and others. Withdrawal from certain drugs can also result in severe physical discomfort, such as tremors, flu-like symptoms, diarrhea, bone pain, and even seizures. Long term users of certain drugs may experience pervasive changes in brain function. For example, prolonged exposure to ecstasy can lead to deficits in memory, increased depression, anxiety, and sleep problems.

Brain chemistry. Repeated and chronic use of addictive drugs results in brain changes of unknown reversibility. Drugs can reduce energy use in the brain, change gene function, brain signals, the shape of brain cells, brain networks, and activity in specific brain regions. Some drugs are frankly toxic to the brain. Cocaine promotes spasm of blood vessels resulting in reduced blood flow in human brain. Frequent exposure to amphetamine, methamphetamine, and ecstasy produce toxicity and damage to specific brain cells. Heavy alcohol or inhalant use (e.g. toluene) can produce profound irreversible toxic effects and shrinkage of brain grey matter.

Body. Specific drugs can affect specific organs in the body. Research has shown a connection between stimulants (cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine) and harmful effects on heart and blood vessels. Smoking marijuana can lead to harmful effects on lungs and other organs. Chronic use of certain drugs, such as steroids, may lead to significant damage to the hormone system, fertility, the liver and heart and even personality changes. Use of methamphetamine can produce significant damage to specific cells in the brain and personality changes that impact all aspects of daily life. Ecstasy can also lead to damaged brain cells and loss of grey matter in the brain. Many drugs cause brain changes that can lead to problems with memory, attention and decision-making.

Addiction Potential

Research is increasingly showing that exposure to drugs during adolescence has important consequences for future drug use and behavior. Excess risk of cannabis dependence was found for those with cannabis use before late-adolescence. Marijuana use during adolescence leads to 2-6 times higher use of other drugs during adulthood. Early-onset cannabis use and subsequent is associated with higher odds double the rates of suicide attempts. Youth who used inhalants prior to age 14 were twice as likely to initiate opioid use, as compared to those who had never tried. Early-onset cannabis users exhibit poorer higher brain function than late-onset users.

Accidents and other consequences

Drugged driving, or driving while under the abuse of drugs, can impair motor function, concentration, and perception and thereby increase the likelihood of road accidents. Moreover, effects of drug use can last up to 24 hours after administration. Monitoring the Future data shows that approximately one in six (15%) teens reported driving under the influence of marijuana, a number nearly equivalent to those who reported driving under the influence of alcohol (16%). Youth identified with substance problems are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors during adolescence and to continue risky sexual behaviors to the extent that substance problems persist.

Unplanned Risky Behaviours

Current data suggest that many health risk behaviors occur in combination with other risky activities (Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System). For example, teens 15 and older who use drugs are 5 times more likely to have sex than teens who do not use drugs (The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. 1999. Dangerous Liaisons: Substance Abuse and Sex, 1999 Analysis of 1997 YRBSS data. New York). Additionally, teens who have used marijuana are four times more likely to have been pregnant or to have gotten someone pregnant than teens who have never smoked pot (The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. 1997. Substance Abuse and the American Adolescent: A Report by the Commission on Substance Abuse Among American Adolescents. New York).

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