By Patti Richards
Knowledge is power, and the more you know about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, the more power you have to say “no” to substances. Drug and alcohol abuse are at epidemic levels in the United States, which means young people are at an even greater risk. Understanding the dangers of substance abuse can help protect you and your friends from serious consequences. No matter what social media, movies or television tells you about recreational drug use, the facts are the facts. Use them to make healthy choices and build a future free from addiction.
Alcohol has been part of American culture for its entire history. Other than during the prohibition era — 1920 to 1933 — it has been legal to buy, sell and drink alcoholic beverages. After prohibition, states set their own minimum drinking age requirements. In most places, that age was 21. But when the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1971, many states decided to lower the drinking age as well. When the National Institute of Health reported a dramatic increase in the number of alcohol-related car accidents, the government stepped in with the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984. For the first time since prohibition, the minimum drinking age would be regulated at the federal level.1
Drug Abuse and Addiction
When it comes to young people and substance abuse, the problems don’t end with alcohol. In 2016, approximately 28.6 million Americans over the age of 12 used illicit drugs in the past month.3 That’s one in 10 people using drugs for reasons other than prescribed by a doctor. The categories of illicit drug use include marijuana, heroin, cocaine, stimulants, prescription painkillers, tranquilizers, sedatives, hallucinogens, inhalants and methamphetamines.
No matter where they come from, drugs are chemicals. When drugs enter the brain, they change the way the brain sends and receives messages from naturally-occurring neurotransmitters. Drugs like prescription opioids actually change the way the body perceives pain and produce feelings of euphoria. Because opioids mimic the way the brain’s neurotransmitters send and receive messages, the brain needs more of the drug to function normally. This results in drug dependence. Other drugs, like nicotine and cocaine, affect the brain’s reward system. When the brain responds to pleasure, it releases the neurotransmitter dopamine. This results in normal feelings of pleasure. When drugs are introduced, it over stimulates the brain and too much dopamine is released. This results in a “high.” With repeated use, the brain craves the experience and learns to repeat the activity over again to achieve the same results.4 As the body becomes dependent on the feelings the drug produces, it needs more to produce the same level of experience. This cycle can quickly lead to addiction.
Finding Help for Drug and Alcohol Abuse
It’s never too late to get help for drug and alcohol addiction. Call our toll-free helpline 24 hours a day to speak to an admissions coordinator about available treatment options.
1 Devenyns, Jesse. “How the Legal Drinking Age Has Changed Over Time.” Wide Open Eats, 9 June 2017.
2 “Fact Sheets – Underage Drinking.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 Oct. 2016.
3 “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Sept. 2017.
4 “Brain and Addiction.” NIDA for Teens, Jan. 2018.
5 Wilcox, Stephen. “Signs and Symptoms.” National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, 19 Dec. 2016.