Alcohol Marijuana and The Teenage Brain

Two teen girls smoking

Alcohol Marijuana and The Teenage Brain

In the small town where I grew up, there wasn’t a lot to do for teenagers. The movie theater had closed, so did the skating rink. The closest bowling alley was a 30-minute drive.

Most of the teenagers in town hung out at the one dance club or spent the evening circling the Sonic drive-in. 

And drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana.

I thought it was symptomatic of small-town living, but even in 2019 (latest dates available) 29 percent of high school seniors admit that they drank alcohol in the past 30 days. Marijuana use in teens has gone up dramatically since I was in high school, from 0.6 percent in 1991 to 6.3 percent in 2017.

Even in states where recreational marijuana use is legal, it’s still illegal for anyone under 21, just like drinking alcohol.

And there are good reasons.

Why Teens Should Wait

Teenagers’ brains are still developing and alcohol and marijuana use can leave lasting effects. 

Parts of the brain associated with memory and learning can be affected by alcohol use and may not grow or develop correctly, leading to life-long problems.

Other issues include poor decision making, impulse control and damage to brain cells. 

Teens who use marijuana could also have serious lasting effects. They are more likely to have mental illness, drop out of high school and use marijuana later in life.

Marijuana use can also lead to learning and memory problems, panic attacks and affect athletic performance, coordination, balance and judgement. 

Have Open Conversations

So what do you do? If you are a parent, talk to your kids about alcohol and marijuana. Don’t wait for them to bring it up. Make sure they know the facts, not just what the kids at school tell them. Help them come up with a plan for when they are offered drugs or alcohol – and it’s going to happen. Some teens have no problem saying no, others need to have an escape plan. 

My oldest son was dead set against drinking and smoking marijuana, but he still wanted to hang out with his friends, some of whom did both. When the hard partying started, he would either slip away or say he had to be somewhere. He made us promise that if he called, we would pick him up, no questions asked, to help him with his getaway. Hey, it worked!

By Amanda Rogers for Surepoint Medical Centers

Photo by Mikail Duran on Unsplash


Amanda Rogers is a freelance writer based in Fort Worth, Texas

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