Josh Chandler | July 6, 2017

Effects of Substance Abuse in Adolescents That You Need to Recognize

When teens fall victim to substance abuse, there are many effects that you may notice. Learn about 7 main effects of substance abuse in adolescents.

When you suspect that your teen is using drugs or alcohol, your heart breaks. You grapple with this new reality and question why.

Around 7.7 million Americans struggle with substance abuse each year. Research shows the importance of early intervention. It has the potential to completely alter the current path and help them stay on the path towards recovery.

Recognizing its effects will help you do what’s best for your child. It will ensure that your child receives that early intervention that quite possibly will save his/her life.

Let’s explore the 7 effects of substance abuse you need to know.

Mental Effects

Approximately 8 million Americans have co-occurring disorders (a.k.a, dual diagnoses). This means they are struggling with both an addiction and a mental illness.

In many cases the cause and effect relationship is unclear. But both must be treated in order for the youth to find and stay on the sober path.

Some common co-occurring illnesses are:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Borderline personality
  • Bipolar
  • Suicidal thoughts

In addition, the teen may also experience intermittent:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Foggy thinking
  • Inability to pay attention or concentrate
  • Disassociation (a defense mechanism that causes an inability to connect their actions with the effects of those actions — among other symptoms)

Emotional Effects

Often it’s difficult to distinguish between the mental and emotional effects of substance abuse. They both go on inside but can manifest in outward behavior.

Drugs and alcohol disrupt your brain’s ability to transfer signals and regulate body functions. This can impact thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Something as natural as joy may be completely destroyed to the point that the only way that the addicted teen feels joy is by using.

Joy or pleasure is your body’s positive reinforcement mechanism. Usually, it reinforces good behaviors like getting good grades, winning a trophy or making those around you happy. Without it, you have less incentive to do positive things.

Substance abuse can also impact a person’s ability to feel disgust and fear. These emotions work together to protect us from activities, thoughts, habits, and people who make us unsafe.

Your mind uses sadness to help you empathize with others, learn from your mistakes and process grief over a loss. When sadness is hijacked by substance abuse, it can become perpetual sadness with no clear goal or objective.

Anger can be used in healthy ways to demonstrate to people when they’ve overstepped a boundary, causing you pain. But when substances are involved it can result in explosions of rage at everyone and everything.

The emotional effects of substance abuse can be magnified by sadness, disgust, fear and anger turned inward, as the adolescent becomes aware of how this is destroying his/her life and others.

Behavioral Effects

Adolescents who struggle with substance abuse demonstrate many outward behaviors that are caused by the addiction. These can include:

  • Violent and/or erratic behavior
  • Expressions of apathy (not caring about themselves or others)
  • Distrust
  • Incoherent speech
  • Unwillingness to take part in family activities
  • Loss of interest in activities that he/she once loved
  • Risky sex
  • Lashing out
  • Mood swings
  • Risky hygiene practices (eg, sharing needles)
  • Other risky behaviors, some of which we’ll discuss in legal effects below
  • Self-harm
  • Attempting suicide
  • Withdrawal

These behaviors not only impact the adolescent now but can also lead to lifelong pain, suffering or even death.

90% of individuals who commit suicide have a mental illness like substance abuse disorder (SUD). Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people.

Physical Effects

The mental and emotional effects of substance abuse, as well as the substance itself, begin to cause physical effects like:

  • Poor hygiene
  • Appearance changes
  • Catching diseases
  • Brain damage
  • Car accidents
  • Re-wiring the brain to “need” the substance to “feel normal”
  • Overdose death
  • Severely reduced job and income prospects

Some of these effects are temporary; others are permanent and progressive the longer the person remains on this path.

Death rates due to substance abuse have increased by around 15% since 1999.

Annually, around 40 thousand HIV diagnoses can be attributed to intravenous drug use. Hepatitis A, B, C and many other detrimental diseases can be directly linked to drug use.

4 thousand drivers are killed each year with drugs in their systems. 57% of fatality car accidents are the result of illegal drug use.

Social/Relationship Effects

Behaviors like withdrawal, raging and mood swings impact the sufferer’s ability to connect with people and maintain relationships.

Those who don’t feel that they have to stay, will leave. Family members and others who are very close may stay. They may try to help. But the addict is incapable of reciprocating, building or growing relationships.

Everyone involved will suffer.

Academic Effects

The effects in school are often apparent and devastating:

  • Falling grades
  • Late for school/Missed school
  • Can’t focus or set goals
  • Severe procrastination
  • Constant trouble with classmates and teachers
  • Suspension
  • Wasted academic opportunities

31% of students who drop out are taking illicit drugs.

Legal Effects

Adolescents who use drugs often begin having trouble with the law sooner rather than later.

It may begin with something relatively small like breaking curfew of taking a little cash out of your wallet. But when it’s not addressed, it typically escalates quickly to things like:

  • Stealing large amounts of money from you and others
  • Stealing personal possession and/or selling things that you bought for your child that are technically yours
  • Fighting
  • Carrying weapons
  • Public intoxication
  • DWI
  • Getting arrested
  • Acquiring a criminal record

The leading cause of death in teens is car crashes of which 25% can be linked to substance abuse.

As many as 57% of adolescents who are arrested admit to drug use. And 39% were under the influence at time of arrest.

The Far-Reaching Effects of Substance Abuse

Drug and alcohol abuse affect more than the person who is using. It affects everyone. The effects of substance abuse are complex, many and far-reaching.

Research shows that adolescents who get professional help early are much more likely to experience a more lasting recovery.

You and your loved one can find hope and healing through substance abuse treatment.

If you or your child is suffering from substance abuse, we’re here to help you find the right treatment options. Please give us a call at 1-800-426-1818.


Addiction,Mental Health,Treatment,
Josh Chandler
Josh Chandler
After growing up in Chicago and North Carolina, Josh chose to get help with substance use disorder and mental health in California because of the state's reputation for top-tier treatment. There, he found the treatment he needed to achieve more than five years of recovery. He's been in the drug and alcohol addiction rehab industry for four years and now serves as the Director of Admissions for Resurgence Behavioral Health. Josh remains passionate about the field because he understands that one phone call can alter the course of a person's life.

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