Teens are biologically wired to take risks, as the human brain develops and goes through great changes until the mid-20s.
During this time of adolescent brain growth, teens tend to take more risks, exhibit poor judgment and seek high-pleasure activities. Because of this, teens are at greater risk for substance use. In addition, the use of drugs during this time can permanently alter a brain – these defects can continue even after someone stops using a substance.
Along with the risks of using while a brain is still developing, the younger a person starts using drugs the more likely they are to develop a substance use disorder. In fact, research suggests that almost all, 90%, of people with a substance use disorder started using before the age of 18.
A teen/young adult’s brain lacks a fully developed prefrontal cortex, which is the part responsible for inhibiting risky behavior. This region isn’t fully developed until about the age of 25 – during this time, a brain is getting wired for behaviors and getting fine-tuned with experience. In the meantime, this developing brain is programmed to seek reward and pleasure, which can lead to drug use.
Generally, by the time they are seniors, almost 70% of high school students will have tried alcohol, half will have taken an illegal drug, nearly 40% will have smoked a cigarette, and more than 20% will have used a prescription drug for a nonmedical purpose, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Most teens do not develop a substance use disorder, but even experimentation is highly risky.
Parents and caregivers should communicate clearly that no use of e-cigs, tobacco, alcohol or other drugs is acceptable. In addition, parents also can try and provide safe, parent-supervised activities that provide the excitement a teen brain may crave. Outdoor activities like rock climbing can provide this fun, for example. Parents also should supervise teen interactions and activities and provide clear rules for peer interactions. The less time a teen has unsupervised and unstructured, the better.
Parents and caregivers also can set an example on how to deal with stress, difficult emotional situations and appropriate emotional responses. These opportunities for learning can help an adolescent develop and use those abilities as an adult. Since the developing brain is so adaptable, it poses opportunities along with its vulnerabilities. Essentially, this time period offers a chance to hard-wire positive stimuli.
Talbot Goes Purple is an educational and awareness prevention program that empowers our youth and our community to “Go Purple” as a sign of taking a stand against substance abuse. The purpose of the program is to promote the “new conversation” – one that includes prescription drugs, alcohol, marijuana and e-cigarettes. TGP focuses on educating students about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs, and works toward preventing kids from beginning to use these substances in the first place.
An initiative from the Talbot County Sheriff’s Office and Tidewater Rotary, in partnership with Talbot County Public Schools, Saints Peter & Paul School and the Mid-Shore Community Foundation, Talbot Goes Purple empowers our youth and our community to “Go Purple” as a sign of taking a stand against substance abuse.
Talbot Goes Purple is a component fund of the Mid-Shore Community Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization — donations to which are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.