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Drugs & Health Blog

Traumatic Brain Injury, Drug Addiction, and the Developing Teen Brain

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The NIDA Blog Team

These days, when there are news reports about traumatic brain injury (TBI), it’s almost always related to football. And while one of the effects of TBI is an increased risk of using drugs and alcohol (especially for teens), this post isn’t really about that. (However, this post is.)

This post is about the turf TBIs and drugs share: the developing teen brain.

The Developing Teen Brain: Why It's at Risk

We’ve talked a lot about why drug use is so dangerous in your teen years—that it raises your risk for being addicted. (Here’s a great explanation.) The teen brain is still developing—growing—and this makes it more flexible, more impressionable. So what you do now has a big impact on who you become as an adult. Like molding clay before it hardens, or programming a computer, you are wiring your brain.

It turns out that the developing brain is also at high risk for concussions, which doctors call "mild TBIs". Concussions can cause people to feel confused and depressed, to have a hard time remembering events around the time of the injury, to get headaches and seizures, and possibly to lose consciousness (pass out).

TBIs and the Developing Teen Brain

Compared with adults, children and teens have large heads in relation to their necks (like a bobblehead) and their brains’ nerve fibers can be torn apart more easily. So children and teens have a greater chance of getting a concussion. Many young people recover rapidly, but the younger a person is, the longer it can take to recover. Sometimes, young people have more serious effects from TBIs compared to adults.

It isn't just age that makes a difference; research from the past few years has shown that girls are at a greater risk for concussions than boys, and girls' brains need more time to recover than previously thought.

Every concussion is different. When two heads slam together (inside helmets or not) or a ball hits your head, it can force your brain out of its protective fluid, slamming it against your skull and shaking it. It can disrupt how your brain works—for a few seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, or forever.

The nature of the injury, where it happens in the brain, the individual characteristics of the person’s brain, and environment all play a role in how bad the damage is. And people who get a concussion and go back to playing too soon are at risk of getting additional concussions more easily, and possibly having much more severe outcomes. In rare cases, this can even cause death.

TBIs and Drugs: Protect Yourself

TBIs pose higher risks for the teen brain because it's still being formed. This is also one of the reasons that using drugs as a teen increases the chances for addiction—the brain is simply more vulnerable while it’s developing.

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. Take precautions to protect your brain. Seat belts and helmets can save your life. But if you do get a concussion, listen to your doctor and force yourself to rest for the full time prescribed, even when you feel ready to get back to the sport you love. And remember, there’s no helmet for drugs. So protect your brain…inside and out.

Tell us in comments: Does this post help you think differently about your brain?

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


I think its cool how such an awesome thing, like the brain, can make a teenager so vulnerable to so many things; however, the abilities that the compplexity of the brain gives us is most definitely worth it.
I think its that you made this blog
Buckle up. Protect your briain.
It is so very ironic how the teen brain causes teens to take so many risks when the teens frontal lobe, the place of though process, is still developing making them even more vulnerable to thinks like drugs and harmful things.
After reading this article, I found out how important your brain is to keep safe. It is the boss of the body. If you lose your brain from drugs or a concussion, you could be done for. Keep your brain safe from dangers such as drugs and concussions.
It's strange how we spend the most time involved in sports such as football or any other risky sport during the time our brains are most vulnerable. It's all the more reason to wear helmets and safety gear.
I have learned a lot from this article. I found out that our brains are really vulnerable. If you damage your brain you are hurting yourself massively.
Wow I never knew that my brain was actually this exposed and that it was very important to keep your brain safe!
When the article said that girls have a greater risk for concussions, does it mean that the risk is greater than boys or greater than people have previously thought? I would not understand why they have a greater risk than boys because boys are the ones who play all the physical sports and do reckless things. It would make sense that boys have harder heads because they are adapting to the hits they have to take and girls don't have to.

Girls are at greater risk for concussions AND it takes longer for girls to heal compared to boys.  If you take the same sport and compare girls vs. boys, more of the girls get concussions than boys.  The reason girls are more at risk is not well understood.  Some researchers think it may be because girls have weaker neck muscles and a smaller head mass (compared to boys).  Though some think the difference may not be all that big, and that boys just don’t report their injuries as much as girls.  

Looks like drugs aren't the only thing you have to protect your brain from. The funny thing is how similar TBIs and drugs are. Maybe football isn't such a great sport after all...
It's a lot easier to understand why many teenagers become addicted to drugs and alcohol after reading this article.
I had a concussion when I was a teenage driver and it landed me in a mental institution where reality and fiction could not be unmixed
This is the worst website in history of websites
This is boring
So you don't care about your brain? This stuff is important, and for you to read it and leave a comment like that is really rude. Nobody had to make a website to warn teenagers to be careful about their brains. These people took time out of their lives because they care about the people in the world. If you already knew this, then you didn't have to leave a comment. When you realized that you knew this stuff then you should have exited and gone on something else. If you find this stuff boring, then you shouldn't be looking it up, and leaving rude and immature comments like the one you posted.
This is the worst website in history!
Very good explanation. Thank you.
of course it's very helpful to make availability of consciosness's among the mentality of teens to avoid drugs and to get rid of problems to which they may get invitation to face in their future
I am a previous drug user and I agree with the above...I am helping teenagers in my home area to stop drugs as it has very negative effects on their life.This is the best website of all time.LETS PROTECT OUR BRAIN.....IT IS THE MASTER OF OUR BODIES
So the potential for TBI-related harm and the potential for addiction are both mediated by age (or stage of brain development). But I think it's misleading to imply, as this article does, that 'drugs' have something specific 'to do with' TBI. Frankly, it's alarming that the authors fail to distinguish between different kinds of drugs. Guys, teens are smart and I can't help but feel like this article is just a bit patronizing. Why not write a separate article on the effects of various kinds of drugs in the developing brain, rather than conflate 'drugs' and TBI? I wish that someone had shown me real science on cannabis in the developing brain when I was a teen. I honestly would have used less of it. Luckily, I turned out just fine. The discerning kids understand that different kinds of drugs have different effects and different dangers. Failing to address this does them a disservice. Their logic then becomes, if NIDA and my health teachers are making blanket statements about 'drugs' then what's to say the harms aren't being overstated? My message to teens on this board is to treat cannabis with great respect like other mind-altering chemicals and NOT to use it without doctor's orders. All the time you're high is time that you're not operating at 100%, and people will notice.
I find this totally interesting because i had major trauma to my head several times in my youth, bad enough to wake up in ambulance wondering where I was and I turned out to be the only addict in my family although when I speak of weed I do not find it an awful thing to be addicted to and it mostly controls my mood but recently I had to stop both ciggs and I am including weed with it, I always wondered if my head traumas had anything to do with me being totally different from the rest of my family, they all have familys and a life, me not so much took care of my parent till they died and now i'm left alone, also had another head trauma not to long ago passed out feel 3 steps onto concrete with head, turned out I needed a pacemaker at 42, my brother is an alcoholic forgot about him, but yeah here is my addition to this conversation.
you have to try more studies and any ways drug use causes a different type of brain injury. I can tell you I have an acquired brain injury from an Infection I had when I was a kid. but its like a crack on a windshield the injury progresses so I was diagnosed wrong except for one thing my mother was told my frontal lobe may never fully develop. it didn't and at the age of 34 my frontal lobe is almost gone. so I wouldn't say most people with tbi or abi are all addicts unless you do further studies though you won't find out for sure. remember drugs cause abi and tbi can get added to that. unfortunately mine was caused by an infection
Brain is the most important part of body.
My son had a severe TBI at age 15. Now at age 25 he’s mentally ill and a drug addict. I do know that his judgement was impaired after his accident and he’s very impulsive. Always wonder if his TBI contributed to his downfall and maybe he even suffers from CTE now. Doesn’t clearly see he has a problem. Very troubled young man. Sad for his family who is no longer able to deal with him.