A Teen’s Developing Brain

Sometimes teenagers can seem like different beings altogether. Some might say they’re over-reactive, dramatic, and impulsive. Is that true?

Well, yes and no. It is true that teenagers and adolescents can often behave flagrantly and emotionally. Adolescents simply have different brain chemistry that hasn’t fully formed into adult brains yet.

Brain Terminology

Scientists say that the brain is 95 percent formed by age 6 but that extra 5 percent takes a little more time. There are four areas of the brain that play integral roles in development and maturation. Specifically, these regions and an important thing called “gray matter” fully form at different rates, and they are responsible for fluctuations in mood, learning, and motor skills.

  • Amygdala. The area of the brain that deals with emotional and instinctive reactions, including fear and aggression responses.
  • Frontal cortex. Located in the front of the brain, the frontal cortex is responsible for controlling reason. It also helps with judgment and decision-making, and it is referred to as the brain’s “CEO,” according to PBS’s Frontline.
  • Cerebellum. The cerebellum is located in the back of the brain and involved with coordination of thinking and physical movement.
  • Corpus callosum. This is a fiber network that changes rapidly during adolescence and relays information between the brain’s hemispheres. It also is responsible for creativity and problem-solving abilities.
  • Gray matter. Made up of neuron and non-neuron brain cells that carry sensory information to different parts of the brain. The gray matter of the brain is often associated with intelligence.

Changes During Adolescence

The teenage brain goes through dramatic changes, especially between the ages of 13 and 18. In fact, it’s estimated that as the brain matures during these ages, we lose about 1 percent of our gray matter each year. Substance and alcohol abuse, according to Psych Central, damage the gray matter in the brain, causing a loss of executive functioning skills like memory, learning, information processing, and impulse control.

What You Should Expect

It’s important to remember that your adolescent is going through some normal changes. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says that your teen is likely to:

  • Act irrationally or impulsively
  • Engage in risky behavior
  • Engage in fights or altercations
  • Misunderstand social cues
  • Misinterpret emotions

Remember, you went through this, too. This will eventually subside, but when paired with substance and alcohol abuse, important stages of learning and development can be missed or not fully explored, potentially causing long-term impairment. Alcohol abuse, for example, has been shown to impair cognitive functions later in adult life while cocaine was discovered to increase the likelihood of psychoticism in adulthood, according to the American Psychological Association.

Is your teenage son doing drugs or alcohol? Now, it’s more crucial than ever to get your teen the right kind of help. Call Muir Wood today to learn more about our treatment options. Our programs are specifically designed for adolescent boys, and we have counselors who understand the teenage mind. If you suspect your son might need help for substance abuse during this poignant time, give us a call. We have representatives standing by to assist you.

Return to Treatment Topics…