Teenagers and adolescents who have an alcohol or drug abuse problem are putting their long-term health at great risk. From the ages of 12 through 20 years old, a young person’s body is in transition. Drugs and alcohol alter the system during this crucial period of change and can affect the body adversely in a number of ways, including:
- The liver: Young people don’t develop cirrhosis of the liver generally, but the damage they do to their liver during periods of heavy drinking can greatly raise the risk of liver damage as adults.
- The immune system: Research has shown that use of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and crystal meth all affect the development of the immune system, making it difficult for the individual fight off infection as they get older.
- Bone development: Studies have found that boys who drink excessively during their early teen years experience stunted growth more often than those who do not consume alcohol.
- The limbic system: Drugs and alcohol alter the limbic system – the part of the brain that controls the release of pleasure and reward. Changes to the limbic system during adolescence will stay with that individual, and potentially get worse, throughout the rest of their lives.
- The endocrine system: Alcohol abuse as a teenager has a direct effect on that person’s ability to reproduce later in life. That is because of the adverse reaction of the endocrine system – which controls the development of the testes and ovaries – to alcohol.
If you know a young person struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, contact an addiction treatment center that understands the special needs of teenagers and their families. Michael’s House treats adults ages 18+ with co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders. If you are looking to help an adolescent with the issues discussed in this article, SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a great resource.