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How Drug Addiction Affects Adolescents

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Exposure to illegal substances is a common experience among adolescents, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Although most teenagers stick to experimentation and recreational drug use, continued use can lead to full-blown addiction.

Addiction is characterized by an overwhelming and uncontrollable need to use, even when faced with negative consequences. The effects of drug addiction are very serious and can be permanent.

How addiction affects relationships

Adolescents take drugs for a variety of reasons; they may be trying to "fit in" with their peers, seeking an escape from physical or emotional pain, or hoping to feel or act better in some other way. But once addiction sets in, relationships tend to get placed on the back-burner, and the drug itself becomes the most important thing to the user.

Although drug use can seem to mask problems in the short-term, the long-term effects of addiction are often worse than the problems that existed before the person started using. According to Teen Drug Abuse, social consequences of drug addiction include strained or ruined relationships with family members and friends.

How addiction affects the body

The type and amount of drugs used determine their effects on the body. As it becomes physically addicted to a substance, the body will demand more and more of the drug in order to achieve a satisfactory “high,” according to Kids Health.

Physical withdrawal symptoms include shaking, sweating, fever, nausea, anxiety, depression, and hallucinations. Withdrawal can be an excruciating experience for an addict, and the process is sometimes fatal.

How addiction affects the brain

Different drugs affect the body in different ways, but they all activate the pleasure, or reward, region of the brain. Over time, drug use alters this area and how it functions. This process can lead to addiction by causing the brain to rely on the substance for triggering the experience of pleasure.

Drugs also alter regions of the brain which are still developing during the teen years--those that control judgment, self-control, emotions, motivation, memory, and learning. According to, prolonged drug use can alter the brain to the extent that normal functioning is difficult on a daily basis. Effects on the brain sometimes continue long after someone stops using and can be permanent, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.