Teen Brain, a Work in Progress

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Addiction is Developmental Disease chart

Have you ever wondered why you have to be 16 to get your driver’s license or 18 to vote or 21 to legally drink alcohol?

It’s partly because your brain is not ready to take on these responsibilities, since your brain is not fully developed when you’re a teen.

Your brain's in training

During the teen years, essential parts of the brain are still forming—like the prefrontal cortex, which allows people to weigh the pros and cons of situations instead of acting on impulse. This is one reason why teens are generally more likely to take risks than adults.

For example, with alcohol, teens may be less able to judge when to stop drinking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tells us that each year, more than 4,600 alcohol-related deaths occur among those less than 21 years old—and even one is too many.

Drugs = brain drain

Research shows that alcohol and other drugs change the brain’s structure and how it works in the short and long term. In the short term, drugs affect your brain’s judgment and decision-making abilities, while long-term use causes brain changes that can set people up for addiction and other problems.

The brains of people who become addicted get altered so that drugs are now their top priority—and they will compulsively seek and use drugs even though doing so brings devastating consequences for their lives and for those who care about them.

Do yourself a favor and use your brain to make smart choices, reach your goals, and achieve your full potential in life.

Learn more: Check out the blog posts “Cocaine and the Teen Brain” and “Addiction is a Disease.”

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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