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Teenagers that start experimenting with drugs or alcohol run a great risk of developing a substance abuse problem or even a dependency; and even those youth who do manage to avoid addiction suffer through any involvement in drug taking behaviors.

Not only is the use and misuse of alcohol or illicit drugs a very risky behavior, it is also especially detrimental to the still developing minds and bodies of teenage users, and the negative health consequences of use are magnified in still growing adolescents.

In addition to the risks of addiction and the direct risks of physical and mental developmental delays and deficits, participation in even recreational drug or alcohol taking behaviors increases the risks for a host of peripheral social, academic, psychiatric and legal challenges; and those youths who do not engage in substance use and abuse are far better protected against a great many serious challenges during adolescence.

Parents who can keep kids from experimenting with drugs and alcohol until the age of majority protect them from a range of problems, and may even save their lives.

In addition to the risks of addiction, to chronic mental and physical health deficits and to acute overdose or poisoning; the peripheral risks of drug or alcohol experimentation include an increased risk of suicide, decreased academic performance, greater rates of mental illness, more violence both committed and experienced and a greater likelihood of traffic accidents and DUI's.

Academic Performance

Both drug and alcohol use is directly and negatively correlated with academic performance.

Alcohol or illicit drugs are very harmful to the still developing mind, and cognitive and memory impairments can be both transient, and sadly also permanent. The greater the frequency of use the worse the academic performance, but on average, any drug or alcohol use correlates with a lower overall grade point.

Of kids who do not use alcohol or drugs 72.5% maintain an A or B average, yet only 57.7% of kids who binge drink can attain the same level of performance. 72.2 % of kids who reported not having used marijuana in the last month maintained an A or B average, while only 44.9% of kids who had used marijuana 5 or more times in the last month could maintain better than a C average.


Experimentation with illicit drugs stronger than marijuana is directly correlated with an increased risk of suicidal ideation. Kids who use drugs harder than marijuana are almost 3 times more likely to self report thinking about suicide than kids who did not use drugs or alcohol.


Kids who use drugs or alcohol are far more likely to engage in violent acts, and also to experience violence committed against them.

Kids who self reported having participated in a group violent assault were twice as likely to have also used drugs or alcohol in the past year as kids who had not, and over half of all kids who reported having committed two or more types of violent assault over the past year had also used alcohol or drugs.

Estimates have over 800 000 American kids carrying handguns each year, and the odds of carrying a hand gun are greatly increased by concurrent use of illicit drugs or alcohol, and kids who had used illicit drugs were 3 times more likely than non users to carry a gun, kids who binge drank 4 times more likely and kids who drank heavily 5 times more likely.

Whether due to the behaviors of intoxication, association with other risk taking youths or other factors, the data clearly indicates that teens who engage in illicit drug or alcohol use are far more likely to also engage in violent acts… and the heavier the use, the more likely the violence.

Keeping Kids Safe from Drugs and Alcohol

Adolescence is a normal period of exploration and experimentation, and these behaviors are a necessary part of the growth and maturation process, but they also lead teens into certain dangerous and harmful behaviors. For their own safety, health and wellbeing, they need to be protected from the devastation of drug and alcohol use and abuse.

Statistics show that every year parents can keep their kids from using drugs and alcohol the better the chance of a life free from addiction and a decreased risk for a great many serious peripheral problems.

If parents do find their kids experimenting, they need to enforce discipline against future usage, and if a problem of abuse or addiction has developed, parents need to get immediate professional help. Substance abuse or dependency never gets better untreated, and parents must intervene for the long term benefit of their kids.

Teenage Mental Health

In addition to a greatly increased risk of suicide, teens who experiment with drugs or alcohol are at a greatly elevated risk for a number of mental health conditions. Mental health challenges are always related to increased rates of substance abuse, but it seems as though teens who start using younger and who use more, are far more likely to develop psychiatric conditions that both complicate the treatment of substance abuse, and also often exacerbate substance abuse behaviors.

The younger that kids start experimenting with marijuana the greater their eventual risk for mental health challenges. Marijuana has been conclusively linked with psychosis like conditions and with anxiety and depression.

A recent study comparing the rates of mental health illness in adults with different ages of marijuana use onset revealed that youths who started using marijuana before the age of 12 were almost twice as likely to suffer from mental health challenges as those who waited until the age of 18 before experimenting. Of youths who used before the age of 12, 21% had experienced a mental health challenge in the past year.

Mental illness also exacerbates rates of drug and alcohol abuse amongst teens, and teens that experience depressive symptoms are more than twice as likely to use illicit drugs, and almost twice as likely to use alcohol.

The mind is a fragile thing, and teens who experiment with intoxication and drug or alcohol abuse too often fall victim to concurrent mental health conditions. Although substance abuse increases the risk for psychiatric conditions at any age, the very young are especially susceptible to increased rates of mental health illness with substance abuse.

Criminality and DUI

Traffic accidents kill more teens than anything else, and far too many teens are involved in fatal DUI's (29% of teens killed in car accidents had been drinking alcohol).

A far greater number are involved in non fatal alcohol induced accidents and hundreds of thousands are arrested for impaired driving…and face legal repercussions. Nearly 21% of all teens aged 16 or older reported having driven under the influence of drugs in the last year, and 16% having driven under the influence of alcohol.

Almost half of all kids ever interned in a jail or detention center report last-month use of drugs or alcohol, and almost 24% of these kids report an addiction to either drugs or alcohol…far above the average for youths never involved in the criminal justice system.

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Page last updated Nov 20, 2015

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