According to the CDC, the use of alcohol and other drugs by teens is a major health problem, while the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) reports that teens are more likely to engage in risk-taking behavior, as well as develop depression. As a result, it’s only natural to wonder if they are more susceptible to teen addiction, self-medicating, suicide, and much more. If your teen is struggling with these issues, it is important to understand why, as well as what you can do to help them.
The Link Between the Teenage Brain and Mental Illness and Addiction
Studies have found that the numerous changes taking place in the adolescent brain lead to an increased risk of alcohol and drug abuse and could contribute to the emergence of mental illness. By comparing adult and teen rats brain response to a food reward, researchers have identified several differences that could potentially real why teens are more likely to take risks, as well as why they are more vulnerable to depression, schizophrenia, and addiction.
A Teen’s Brain Finds it Hard to Resist Rewards
Researchers determined that teens display more activity in the nucleus accumbens, a part of the brain that reacts to rewards, than adults. Drugs can easily activate this region of the brain, creating a revved up response to reward. Additionally, researchers found increased activity in the dorsal striatum, an area of the brain that is activated by reward signals originating from the nucleus accumbens that is involved in the formation of habits. This seals memories in the brain, such as “If I do this, it makes me feel good.” This makes the teen brain more susceptible to what is going on around them, as well as to things that are believed to be rewarding, and could make them more vulnerable to teen addiction.
The Teen Brain and Mental Illness
Currently, neuroscientists are working diligently to determine what changes in the teen brain make this a time when mental illness first begins to emerge. After all, the symptoms of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression are most often manifested during this time period. Researchers report that genetic studies point out that early brain development may have a key role in schizophrenia.
How Can You Help Your Teen?
If your teen is displaying signs and symptoms of mental illness and/ or substance abuse, it is important to seek help immediately. In addition to being there for your child and showing plenty of compassion, he or she will need therapy. However, getting your teen the help they desperately need can have powerful results.
Waterford Academy provides an outpatient option for teens and young adults who have been struggling with substance abuse. We specialize in therapy, academics, and encouraging each student to learn how to be their best selves. To find out more, call us at (866) 439-0355 today.