Teenagers and young adults often feel like they’re more grown up than they really are. Many of their decisions are based on their desire to break away from their families. Sometimes they act out or engage in risky behavior as a way to prove they are their own people and can make their own decisions.

The Limitations of the Developing Brain

The maturation process is rocky for many young people and their families. Things get even more complicated when alcohol and drug use are involved. The reality is that young people are not, literally, as grown up as they think they are. Biological changes continue to occur in the body, brain and hormonal system well into the mid-to-late-20s. The frontal areas of the brain are not fully developed until the late 20s, and these underdeveloped areas of the brain are the ones that control decision-making. Other areas that are still developing include impulse control mechanisms and the ability to put long-term goals before decisions that will lead to instant gratification. These limitations can make it extremely difficult for teenagers to make good decisions, particularly during a time when they are naturally drawn to seek new sensations and begin to care more about how they’re perceived by their peers.

Substances Impair Brain Development

During this extremely important developmental phase, young people without substance-related problems begin to master the natural shift from concrete to abstract thinking that occurs at this time, as well as the gradual development of impulse control and coping skills.