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Substance abuse problems are completely preventable. The earlier prevention efforts are started, the better. Before children start using drugs and alcohol is the perfect time to reach them. 

Youth Brain Development

Youth and young adults are at an important point in their brain development. The brain continues to develop until around age 25. During adolescence and young adulthood, our abilities to make decisions and cope with stress are still forming. In youth, the brain has a reward system that learns to repeat behaviors that feel good even if they harm us. 

The developing brain is still working out how to process risky or dangerous situations. At this age, we are also learning the coping skills that we will use through adulthood, both healthy and unhealthy.  

How drugs and alcohol affect youth

 Here are some of the ways that drugs and alcohol affect youth:

Red arrow bullet point Poor coping mechanisms

Young people may turn to drugs or alcohol to help them cope with things like stress, depression, or anxiety. At this point in life, the brain is forming paths for permanent habits. Using substances to cope with life problems causes the brain to create a short-cut for that habit, making it hard to correct in the future.  

Red arrow bullet point AddictionAddiction

Drugs and alcohol can affect the chemicals in the brain, leading to dependency. This process is true for adults, but because the developing brain is programmed to focus more on rewards, it makes the struggle even harder for youth. As an example, studies show that people that begin drinking alcohol by age 15 are 5 times more likely to develop a substance use disorder later in life than those that wait until age 21 to begin drinking. 

Red arrow bullet point Risky behavior

Alcohol and some other drugs lower inhibitions and impulse control. For example, people who drink alcohol often make choices that they would not if they were sober. Youth and young adults are already more prone to risky behavior because their brain is still learning how to judge dangerous situations. So, young people that drink are even more likely to do something dangerous, like drink and drive, than adults. 

Prevention works

Preventing substance use before it starts means that youth do not have the opportunity to develop negative coping mechanism or addiction. Prevention allows the brain to develop fully. It stops the process before it starts.


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