Dangers of teen drug use

Many teens experiment with various substances to experience mental and physical effects. Some will experiment with peers in moderation with little significant long-term impact while others will develop a Substance Use Disorder (SUD).

A SUD is defined as a disease that affects a person’s brain and behavior, characterized by the inability to control use and is detrimental to meeting daily responsibilities and activities you obligated yourself to participate in.

The three most common substances used by teenagers are alcohol, nicotine and marijuana, and their use can sometimes lead to developing SUD.


Alcohol is the most abused substance by adolescents.

Many young people do not perceive alcohol as a dangerous substance due to its widespread use among adults and peers, and from appealing marketing seen on television, internet ads and billboards.

Although alcohol use is prevalent among teenagers, underage drinking can have significant consequences to daily life such as:

  • Decreased school performance and attendance
  • Lack of participation in daily activities and responsibilities
  • Increased risk for legal problems and engagement in risky behavior

Using alcohol heavily during adolescence may also cause cognitive impairments and physical damage to the brain. 

Adolescent alcohol use is also linked to an increased risk of developing alcohol use disorder later in life, which should be considered by adolescents when deciding whether to drink.

Nicotine (e-cigarettes)

Tobacco products have always been highly-abused by teenagers due to the addictive chemical nicotine. However, the number of teen smokers has significantly decreased in recent years due to the rise of e-cigarettes.

The following factors contribute to e-cigarette abuse among teens:

  • Cheaper than traditional tobacco products
  • High amounts of nicotine can be provided
  • Flavors that are preferable to tobacco can be used
  • Minimal odor during use
  • Easily concealed and used

Many teenagers do not realize that vaping nicotine in e-cigarettes is harmful. Actually, use during adolescence can impact parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood and impulse control. Teenagers should consider these factors when deciding to use nicotine from an e-cigarette or other tobacco products.


Marijuana has been used by teenagers for decades, although the following factors contribute to high use among modern teenagers:

  • Easily accessible in states that have legalized marijuana
  • Glorification in many genres of music and by influential people
  • Peer pressure and social influence

The legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes led to many young people perceiving it as harmless. While this is a common misconception, adolescent marijuana use can cause impairments in the following areas of mental and physical functioning:

  • Memory
  • Concentration
  • Attention
  • Decision making
  • Physical coordination

Like other drugs, it is important to remember marijuana can be abused and is harmful to brain development during adolescence.

Risk Factors

Risk factors for developing SUD include using drugs to cope with stress, anxiety, depression or other mental health problems. Genetic factors can be traced to family members that have a history with these disorders.

Also, about 82 percent of adolescents with substance use disorder have a mental health challenge, according to "Mental Health First Aid USA: For Adults Assisting Young People."

General information and finding help

Drug use of any type during development of the prefrontal cortex, which commonly extends to age 25, can have significant long-term consequences on cognitive functioning and abilities.

To find information on helping an adolescent who is suffering from drug addiction and finding proper treatment methods, visit these articles:



Finding additional help

Finding ways to cope with mental health issues can be challenging. If you have you or a loved one is experiencing drug dependence, we are glad to consult with you at Community Reach Center. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City, and Brighton. Remember that our Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC) center, 2551 W. 84th Ave., in Westminster is open 24 hours. To learn more about Community Reach Center, a nonprofit mental health center with numerous outpatient offices in Adams County, visit www.communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500.

This blog was contributed by Brice Pernicka, a Westgate Community School student who is also an intern at Community Reach Center.