Summary: Drug Use During Adolescence Associated with Addictive Behavior Later in Life

During the neurodevelopmental changes that occur in the brains of adolescents, sometime in the period where they have poor impulse control and increased risk taking behavior, the introduction of addictive drugs may contribute to further addictive behavior in later years.

  • According to an article written by the American Journal of Psychiatry, substance use disorders are a leading cause of medical morbidity, mortality, and health problems in the United States. Regional availability of substances and social trends influence the prevalence of specific substance use disorders. Three major observations suggest that the developmental periods of adolescence and early adulthood are primary correlates of substance use and substance use disorders, operating across cultural trends and substances. First, adolescents and young adults generally exhibit higher rates of experimental use and substance use disorders than older adults. Second, addictive disorders identified in adults most commonly have onset in adolescence or young adulthood. For example, most adult U.S. smokers begin smoking before age 18, and the onset of daily smoking is uncommon after age 25. Over 40% of adult alcoholics experience alcoholism-related symptoms between ages 15 and 19, and 80% of all cases of alcoholism begin before age 30. The average reported age of initiation of illicit drug use in adults with substance use disorders is 16 years, with 50% of cases beginning between ages 15 and 18 but rarely after the age of 20. Third, earlier onset of substance use predicts greater addiction severity and morbidity, including the use of multiple substances. 1

1Developmental Neurocircuitry of Motivation in Adolescence: A Critical Period of Addiction Vulnerability, American Journal of Psychiatry, June 2003, pp. 1041-1052


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