Young people, drugs, and alcohol don’t mix. While we already knew this, an increasing number of studies have produced even more evidence about the dangers of introducing substances to the young.
For example, scientists at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine discovered that exposing newborn mice to nicotine changed the reward circuitry in their brains. After this circuitry changed, the mice were more likely to prefer nicotine.
While scientists conducted this experiment on mice, it appears that its findings parallels findings about the brains of young human beings. More and more research indicates that the brains of young people are neuroplastic, which means they are able to form new neural connections.
Neuroplasticity is a useful phenomenon if young people have a concussion, because it may allow brain areas to reformulate and prevent permanent brain damage. But if teens and young people abuse alcohol, nicotine, or other drugs, neuroplasticity may lead to very bad changes indeed, according to Dongju Seo and Rajita Sinha:
In fact, evidence suggests that chronic, heavy alcohol consumption is related to neuronal changes that target critical central nervous system (CNS) functions governing homeostasis, emotion regulation, and decision-making. These changes, in turn, may make it significantly more challenging for people to stop drinking and may result in various comorbid, psychological, and physiological symptoms.
Alcohol changes the brain. So do drugs such as nicotine. Using nicotine regularly may make our brains so accustomed to its effects that we suffer when we’re not using it. We may become addicted to it and crave it, which may make quitting nicotine so difficult.
And again, since young people are still forming pathways in their brains, they may form particularly intense attachments to nicotine use and may struggle to stop using it. All the more reason to try to avoid using nicotine or seek help for its use.