The teenage years are a powder keg of emotions. They can allow a person to broaden their horizons, befriend new people, become less dependent on family, and embolden passions for all things. Parents remain important in the equation, and are necessary for guidance for teenagers making better decisions.

Teenagehood is also when alcohol and drugs become present and available for some people. Depending on the circumstances, the end result can be devastating on all lives involved.

How can we understand a young person’s development better to address all possible risks involved and how do we act effectively to prevent substance abuse?

Adolescence Is Longer than we think

For girls, adolescence begins at age 11. For boys, it’s around 13. And it continues into everybody’s mid-twenties.  The brain transforms drastically during this period and doesn’t develop fully until a person reaches the age of 27.

The remodeling of a brain involves structural and neurological change. Left over neurons made from back in childhood die off — this is called “synaptic pruning.” A sheath (myelin) that enhances performance grows among all active neurons — this is the process of myelination. Impulses flow 3000 times faster along the brain circuitry because of the myelin sheath.  More efficient, and more integrated, the brain has become specialized at this point.

It’s a whole new world

New ways of thought and emotional processing appear in adolescence. This inspires wonderful new abilities in people. Things might go wrong though, without proper guidance and support, because these new abilities can also drive people to risky or even fatalistic behavior.

How vulnerable are adolescents to risky and dangerous substance use behaviors? The numbers are scary. They can’t predict anything for a given person, but they shed light on the need for more support and guidance to the adolescent population.

Twenty percent of US youths between ages 12 and 17 have experience with substance use disorder. Poisoning from alcohol and other related events contribute to 4,300 deaths every year for people under 21. Close to another 200,000 people are sent to emergency rooms for related injuries.

It’s important to set a stable direction early on for teens who are about to use or have begun using.

If you or a loved one needs help for a substance use disorder, please call 855-202-4220.

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