A small but significant number of American teenagers use the illegal stimulant drug cocaine at least once a year. Unfortunately, exposure to cocaine (or any other drug) at this age can disrupt the natural course of brain growth and development. One of the potential consequences of this altered brain function is an increased chance of developing a cocaine addiction and consequently, a need for cocaine addiction treatment. Let’s examine the facts more closely.
Number of Teen Users
The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan use an annual nationwide survey called Monitoring the Future to keep track of year-to-year cocaine use in American teenagers enrolled in the 8th, 10th and 12th grades. The most recent available figures from this survey cover the year 2016. In that year, roughly 2.3% of 12th graders used powdered cocaine at least once, and 0.8% used crack cocaine. Approximately 1.3% of 10th graders used powered cocaine, and 0.4% used crack cocaine. Approximately 0.8% of eighth graders used powdered cocaine, and 0.5% used crack cocaine. Lifetime rates of cocaine/crack use were somewhat higher for all three grades, and monthly rates were significantly lower. Researchers note a general downward trend in the numbers of teens consuming the drug.
Effects on Brain Development
The teen brain must go through as much as a decade of growth and development before it reaches its final adult state. Unfortunately, long before teenagers develop the judgment and impulse control needed to consistently avoid bad decisions, they can experience their first encounters with cocaine and other drugs. Exposure to any kind of drug can alter the brain’s natural growth and development and trigger long-term or permanent problems with memory, logical thinking and other higher-level mental functions. This is especially true for repeated exposure and heavy use.
One of the most common changes in the brains of habitual drug users is the onset of physical dependence, a state that causes the brain to accept the presence of a given drug as a normal operating condition. The uncontrolled, highly damaging pattern of use that characterizes addiction is just a short step away from physical dependence. Research shows that the teen brain actually tries to fight off the effects of cocaine when use of the drug first begins. However, cocaine addiction is still a very real possibility for adolescents who continue to use the drug over time. In fact, some adolescent brains are apparently more susceptible to the addictive effects of cocaine, even at initial use. This means that some teens may have genetically heightened risks for developing an addiction to the drug. Resources National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens: Cocaine https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/stimulants National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens: Cocaine and the Teen Brain https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/cocaine-teen-brain Partnership for Drug-Free Kids: The Teen Brain – Brain Development https://www.drugfree.org/why-do-teens-act-this-way/adolescent-brain-development/