The developing adolescent brain

Similar to how a house is constructed, the foundation of a child’s brain is laid before birth, followed by the framing and wiring. Because the brain requires a significant amount of remodeling before it can function as an adult brain, a child’s brain is considered “under construction” well into early adulthood. 

Adolescence is a critical time for brain development. The framing and wiring of the brain becomes more efficient and skills to focus, prioritize, and problem-solve develop. This is also the time your teen will take more risks, express more and stronger emotions, and make impulsive decisions.

Substance use and the developing brain

Because the brain isn’t fully developed until the age of 25, teens are especially susceptible to the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol. Vaping, drinking, and using other substances can damage the brain’s wiring, increasing the likelihood of learning difficulties along with physical and mental health problems, now and well into adulthood. This also increases their risk for addiction. That’s because their limbic systems are very sensitive to dopamine. As a result, they may crave drugs more strongly than adults. The earlier someone starts using drugs, the higher their addiction risk.

If you or your teen are struggling with mental health or substance use issues, FirstLink’s 2-1-1 helpline is available 24/7 to connect you to the services you need. Also, be sure to check out our Crisis Roadmap to learn about other community resources available to support you and your family.