The Effects of Substance Abuse on Adolescent Development

According to the United States Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Programs, adolescents who abuse substances are at risk for a wide variety of issues that may interfere with their development. The physical, social and psychological effects of adolescent substance abuse can have lasting consequences on the individual, and may interfere with a successful transition from adolescence to adulthood.


According to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, adolescence is a developmental period in which the human brain is still developing, and substance abuse has the potential to inhibit healthy neurological development. Ongoing substance use or abuse can place an individual at greater risk for addiction in adulthood. The teen years are also a period of significant social, emotional and academic development, and ongoing substance abuse has the potential to disrupt or even prohibit healthy and effective skill development.

Physical Consequences

The United States Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Programs reports that substance abuse during the teen years has a number of negative effects on the individual's physical development. Drug-related accidents and overdoses often result in physical injuries and illnesses, and teens abusing substances have a higher risk of practicing unsafe sex, which may expose them to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

Psychological Consequences

Substances such as alcohol and psychoactive drugs can have lasting effects on the psychological development of an adolescent. The United States Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Programs reports that teens who abuse these substances are at higher risk for mood disturbances and mental health disorders, such as conduct disorders. Depression and anxiety resulting from prolonged substance abuse can disrupt an adolescent's ability to function and develop in a constructive manner.

Social Consequences

Adolescents with substance abuse problems are more likely to experience issues with social development. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry notes teens who abuse substances are more likely to withdraw from peers and family, and are more likely to have problems with the law. In addition, these teens may experience difficulties in school due to an inability to study or participate, and this often inhibits the successful development of academic and employment skills.


The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry suggests that parents and other adults can help prevent teen substance abuse by having open communication about the potential consequences. Adults should also role model healthy behaviors, and take action if they see signs of a problem. Teens who have sudden changes in mood, are often fatigued and have decreased interest in school or daily activities may be showing signs of substance use. Parents should be aware of all the symptoms of substance abuse and should consult with a medical provider if they have concerns about their child.