The development and application of social emotional skills, coupled with drug awareness education, inform teens of the serious negative consequences of underage drinking, substance use, and other risky behaviors, while preparing them to resist experimenting in the first place. What until recently was not fully understood is underage drinking and substance use can alter the healthy development of the teenage brain with long-term consequences on aptitude executive function.
A recent Fresh Air interview on NPR, featuring Frances E. Jensen, MD, discusses the topic of her new book, The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults. Her book explores the nuances of the developing teenage brain, and outlines the ways in which teenage substance use affects that development. Jensen says, “The effects of substances are more permanent on the teen brain. They have more deleterious effects and can be more toxic to the teen than the adult.”
Contrary to past myths of the physical resiliency of teens, current research shows the human brain is developing well into the twenties. Therefore, underage drinking and substance use can potentially impair development and lead to permanent brain damage. Jensen says “drinking can actually kill brain cells in the adolescent brain where it does not to the same extent in the adult brain.” The frontal cortex—the area of the brain directly related to memory and decision-making—is one of the last areas to develop. Teens engaging in drinking or substance use risk compromising their level of executive function.
Children equipped with solid social emotional skills sets, as well as an awareness of the negative consequences of underage drinking and substance use, are better able to make responsible decisions that will keep them on track to reaching their goals. They realize there is much at stake, and they are well-informed to make choices that will keep them substance-free.