Teens and pre-teens are often curious about drugs and alcohol and about the effects these substances have on the human body and mind. It is natural to want to know more about how it feels to take these substances and how dangerous they really are. Parents need to keep talking to their kids about the dangers of substance abuse so that when their teens are faced with the temptation to try drugs or alcohol, they can enter the situation with confidence, knowing the negative effects of the substances, the dangers, and the long term risks.
Teenagers often feel invincible. They are young, energetic, and healthy, and they are also full of curiosity and questions. Sometimes young people feel the best way to find real answers to their questions is to experiment on their own. When faced with peer pressure to use drugs or alcohol, they might go along with the crowd just to see what it is like. This is when many teens get in trouble, however, as they try things that are physically and psychologically harmful, and take mind-altering substances that impair judgment and lead to further unsafe behavior.
Parents of adolescents and young adults need to talk to their children about the effects of drugs and alcohol and the dangers of experimenting with substances. These talks should be ongoing conversations so that as teens face real situations and become exposed to more temptations, they understand more and are prepared to stand up for what they know is right.
Some of the most common questions teens have about drugs and alcohol are: How they affect the person who uses them? Are they really as addicting as people say? Will they really cause such serious impairment? What are the long term consequences of using these substances? Below are the most commonly abused substances as well as the dangers of using them and the long term effects on the body and mind. Parents can follow lists like these when talking to their teen about drugs and alcohol.
There are always new substances making their way into schools and communities, and parents should stay up to date on the latest trends in order to further prepare their children for dangerous situations they may face.
Because alcohol is of the most commonly used substances by teens and adults alike, alcohol use is often downplayed or dismissed as normal teen behavior. Alcohol use by minors should not be underestimated, however, because it has lasting impacts on developing brains.
Street names for alcohol: Juice, Hard stuff, Sauce, Hooch, Moonshine, Vino, Draft, Suds, Tummy buster, Liquid courage
Alcohol blocks the chemical signals between the neurons of the brain, leading to the common symptoms of intoxication. Over time, the brain adapts to the decrease in signals by overreacting to neurotransmitters in order to function at a normal level. Too much of this activity is called neurotoxicity, and it causes a noticeable decrease in the speed of neuron pathways and slowing of the person’s thought processes and large and small motor skills.
Alcohol reduces the volume of gray matter and white matter in the brain, damage that is usually irreversible. According to a study by researchers at the University of Oxford, individuals who drank large amounts of alcohol experienced shrinkage in the hippocampus, the area of the brain that controls memory and reasoning.
Impacts of alcohol use include blurred vision, lack of coordination, slowed reactions times, impaired memory, and difficulty walking. Impaired judgment due to alcohol use causes risky behavior including drunk driving, unsafe sex, accidents, falls, and blackouts. Long term alcohol use can lead to addiction, severe liver disease, poor nutrition, chronic pancreatitis, cardiovascular disease, and mental illness.
Another group of substances commonly used and abused by teens today is the family of opioids. These include street drugs like heroin and fentanyl, as well as prescription painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin, codeine, and morphine. This group of drugs often poses more of a threat than others because some of these drugs are prescribed by doctors and therefore viewed by many as harmless.
Street names for heroin: Brown sugar, China White, Dope, H, Horse, Junk, Skag, Skunk, Smack, White Horse, With OTC cold medicine and antihistamine: Cheese
Street names for codeine: Captain Cody, Cody, Lean, Schoolboy, Sizzurp, Purple Drank, Doors & Fours, Loads, Pancakes and Syrup
Street names for Fentanyl, Actiq, Duragesic, Sublimaze: Apache, China Girl, China White, Dance Fever, Friend, Goodfella, Jackpot, Murder 8, Tango and Cash, TNT
Street names for Oxycodone, OxyContin, Percodan, Percocet: O.C., Oxycet, Oxycotton, Oxy, Hillbilly Heroin, Percs
Opioids, both prescription medications, and illicit drugs act on the reward center of the brain. They mimic opioid receptors in the brain, flooding the circuits with dopamine that in essence causes the brain to get lazy and stop producing dopamine on its own. The result is that the person addicted to opioids needs these substances to feel good, or more importantly, to stop feeling bad. Because these drugs activate the brain’s reward center, continuing to abuse the substances teaches the brain to remember to repeat the behavior, which leads to addiction and drug-seeking behavior.
One of the main dangers of abusing opioids, besides addiction, is the risk of overdose and death. These substances can quickly depress the central nervous system so much that they cause the user to stop breathing. The most common signs of opioid overdose are pinpoint pupils, unconsciousness, and respiratory depression and failure. Unlike many other substances, opioid overdose can be reversed. The drug Naloxone, if given quickly enough, can reverse the effects of opioids on the body, restoring the person’s breathing and essentially saving their lives.
Cocaine is another dangerous substance used commonly at parties and clubs that is easy to overdose on. This street drug increases the dopamine in the user’s brain, but it also prevents the dopamine from being recycled, causing it to build up and interrupt normal brain cell communication.
Street names for cocaine: blow, coke, crack, rock, and snow
Because cocaine is such a fast-acting drug, the user feels a rush of a high, followed by a low, usually in the span of half an hour or less. Cocaine causes the user to feel a sudden feeling of euphoria, a burst of energy, increased mood, paranoia, irritability, and decreased appetite. Cocaine addicts begin using more and more of the substance in order to feel the same high, and this can quickly lead to an overdose that is often fatal.
Another risk with cocaine is that it is often mixed with other substances before it is sold, in order to increase profits for the dealer. Substances like cornstarch, flour, and talcum powder, as well as other drugs and even toxic substances, are often mixed with cocaine.
Meth is a synthetic stimulant drug that acts in much the same way as cocaine on the body and brain. Meth impacts the central nervous system, heightening the user’s energy and attention. It floods the brain with dopamine, giving the user the high that becomes irresistible to them as they continue to use.
Street names for meth: Crank, Crystal, Christina, Tina, Chalk, Ice, Speed, Geep, Trash, White Cross, Hanyak, Hironpon, Hot Ice, Super Ice, Batu, LA Glass, Ice Cream, Quartz, Cookies, Cotton Candy, Dunk, Junk, No-Doze, Pookie, Scooby Snax
Meth is extremely addicting and dangerous, leading users to exhibit some bizarre behavior, even after the first use. Long term use of meth can lead to:
- Aggressive behaviors
- Trouble with verbal learning and memory
- Violent outbursts
- Difficulties sleeping
- Movement, motor, and coordination issues
- Mood disturbances
- Visual and auditory hallucinations
- Tooth decay
- Skin sores
One of the most misunderstood substances in America today is marijuana. This drug has recently been reinvented as a medical necessity for many and has been legalized for medical and recreational use in many states. All this has led to confusion and misunderstanding of the drug by many, including many teens.
Street names for marijuana: Weed, Pot, Reefer, Grass, Dope, Ganja, Mary Jane, Hash, Herb, Skunk, Boom, Blunt, Bomber, Cripple, Dagga, Ding, Ganja, Giggle Smoke, Hot Stick, Jay, Jolly Green, Roach
Marijuana comes from the leaves of the Cannabis plant. It is dried and smoked, made into liquid, baked in food, or brewed into tea. When consumed, the active ingredient in marijuana, THC, passes through the bloodstream and into the brain, where it over activates receptors in the brain and disrupts function. THC alters the functioning of the brain’s hippocampus, orbitofrontal cortex, and cerebellum, which are areas that control memory, focus, balance, posture, and coordination.
Effects of marijuana on the body and mind include:
- Altered senses (for example, seeing brighter colors)
- Altered sense of time
- Changes in mood
- Impaired body movement
- Difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
- Impaired memory
- Hallucinations (when taken in high doses)
- Delusions (when taken in high doses)
- Psychosis (when taken in high doses)
Some studies have shown that marijuana provides health benefits to those suffering from various conditions such as chronic pain, epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, cancer, glaucoma, and multiple sclerosis. Today, many states are passing laws that legalize marijuana for recreational use as well. In areas where this is the case, it must still be treated with care, and it is not recommended for use among teens and young people. In young individuals, marijuana interferes with normal brain development and functioning, which can lead to permanent damage.