How substance use affects teens' health
Substance use can lead to long-term social and health problems, injury, and even death. Growth and development can be affected by tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. Teens who abuse these substances may have trouble finding their identity, building relationship skills, and becoming emotionally stable. They also may have trouble preparing for their future. Substance abuse can affect memory and learning, which can harm a teen's schoolwork.
And substance use can grow very quickly from experimenting or occasional use to abuse and addiction in teens at risk.
Nicotine is only one of the thousands of chemicals in tobacco, but it is the major component that acts on the brain. The lungs readily absorb nicotine from the smoke of cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. The tissues of the mouth can also absorb nicotine when a person smokes cigars or pipes or chews tobacco.
Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances. Some teens show early signs of addiction within days to weeks after starting to smoke. Repeated tobacco use causes a need for increasingly larger amounts of nicotine to feel the same effect (tolerance). And repeated use causes withdrawal symptoms if the person tries to quit.
Alcohol affects all organs of the body but has its most serious effects on the liver. Alcohol decreases the quality of sleep, especially if a person is using it often to help him or her fall asleep. It can cause problems with brain development in teens. Some teens who drink alcohol regularly may not learn how to handle stressful situations without drinking alcohol.
Alcohol is a sedative. So drinking alcohol makes it harder for a person to think and act quickly. It slows down thinking and moving, and it makes a person less alert. A car crash is more likely when a person drives after drinking alcohol.
Other substances teens abuse include:
- InhalantsInhalants (glues, aerosol sprays, gasoline, paints, and paint thinners). These are some of the substances most frequently abused by junior high students, because they don't cost much and are easy to get. They contain poisons that can cause brain damage or, in rare cases, even death with the first use.
- Club drugs like ecstasy (MDMA) and date rape drugs, such as flunitrazepam (Rohypnol) and gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB). The number of teens abusing these drugs is small compared with those abusing cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana. But these club drugs can be dangerous, especially in overdose or when combined with alcohol or other drugs.
- MethamphetamineMethamphetamine (commonly called meth, crank, or speed). Methamphetamine can cause seizures; stroke; serious mental problems, including paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions; and long-term health problems.
- Hallucinogens, including ketamine, LSD, and PCP (phencyclidine). Serious and lasting problems such as psychosis or hallucinogenic flashbacks can occur after a teen uses LSD.
- Opiates, such as codeine, heroin, and morphine. Teens who use these drugs may steal, prostitute themselves, or resort to other dangerous or illegal behavior to buy drugs.
- Prescription drugs , such as diazepam (for example, Valium), hydrocodone and acetaminophen (Norco), and oxycodone (OxyContin). Teens also abuse nonprescription medicines, such as cough syrups and cold pills.
- Anabolic steroidsAnabolic steroids, which teens use to build muscle tissue and decrease body fat. Steroids can cause liver cancer and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.