Magazine article New York Times Upfront

Drugs and the Teen Brain

Magazine article New York Times Upfront

Drugs and the Teen Brain

Article excerpt

Adolescence is a critical time in brain development. That means teens are at greater risk of experiencing the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol.

BY THE TIME YOU ARE A TEENAGER, many parts of your brain have developed so much that you may be able to perform complicated calculations and even have a sharper memory than some adults (like how you might be able to memorize your home's random 11-character Wi-Fi password--while your parents never can!).

But one critical part won't be developed until your mid-twenties--putting teens at a higher risk for the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol.

Under Construction

The key brain part that's still developing is the prefrontal cortex and it's the area you use in critical thinking, such as when you weigh pros and cons before making a decision.

Because the prefrontal cortex is not yet fully developed, teens automatically rely more on the limbic system to make decisions. This system's network of brain structures is linked to emotions and experiencing rewards rather than critical thinking.

Because their prefrontal cortex is in development, teens are more likely to make decisions based on what provides instant gratification, such as a feeling of happiness. This focus can lead them to take more risks than adults. For example, your peers might pressure you to do something you later regret, such as pulling a prank that lands you in trouble. Rather than thinking carefully about the negative outcomes, the teen brain focuses more on getting the reward of your friends' acceptance. …

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