We’ve all done impulsive things in our lives. For some, it’s adding a dozen extra items in the check-out line at the grocery store. For others, it’s hopping in a car and taking a last-minute trip to the beach. Unfortunately, teens are especially at risk for impulsive actions due to the fact that their brains are still developing. This connection between brain development and impulsivity can lead to poor decision making and possibly substance use. If your adolescent or teen is using substances, contact Stonewater Adolescent Recovery Center today.
How Do Impulsivity and the Brain Connect?
The teenage brain is not fully developed. For the brain to completely reach maturity, it can take an adolescent well into their 20s, even their late 20s to develop completely. Specifically, the prefrontal and frontal cortex are obviously part of the adolescent brain, but they are not fully formed. As a result, teens do not have full “access” to these parts of the brain. This is the neuroscience explanation given by neurologist and author Dr. Frances Jensen as she discussed her book, The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults with NPR.
In the adolescent brain, the frontal and prefrontal cortex aren’t accessed with the same rapidity as the adult brain, which is why adolescents can act more impulsively. The frontal and prefrontal cortex house important executive functions like judgment and decision-making. Risky behaviors, thrill seeking, and impulsivity are not simply symptoms of “teenagehood” but symptoms of the developing adolescent brain.
When substance use comes into the picture, Jensen explains, it happens as a way of learning. The younger brain is more adept to learn quickly, even if the brain doesn’t learn “lessons” when it comes to decision making. “It’s in the reward-seeking area of your brain,” Jensen describes, “the limbic system, some place called the nucleus accumbens and the ventral tegmental area.” She emphasizes that substance use is more efficient in the adolescent brain. “They build a reward circuit around that substance to a much stronger, harder, longer, stronger [substance use]. Just like learning a fact is more efficient, sadly, [substance use] is more efficient in the adolescent brain.”
Why This Matters
Parents and adolescents should know that the adolescent brain is more prone to developing not only substance use but a strong dependency. Jensen warns against the myth of adolescent resiliency or minimizing substance use by adolescents to being a passing phase of their development. “The effects of substances are more permanent on the teen brain,” she emphasizes, “They have more deleterious effects and can be more toxic to the teen than in the adult.”
If substance use has come into the picture, early intervention is key. The longer a substance use lasts into adolescence, the greater the risk for developing a lifelong issue into adulthood. Affecting the brain means affecting the development of the brain, which can cause problems in school, among peers, and in the ability to have healthy relationships later in life.
Get Help at Stonewater Adolescent Recovery Center
Stonewater Adolescent Recovery Center is an adolescent substance use treatment facility providing long term residential treatment programs. Our design revolves around the specific needs of each child, promoting their clinical therapy, holistic healing, and academic progress. From our family to yours, we assure you, there is a solution. We provide a wide range of substance use therapies and treatments, including:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
- Music therapy
- Adventure and nature therapy
- Fly fishing therapy