Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

How Heroin Affects an Adolescent’s Developing Brain

According to an article published by CNN, the adolescent brain is in a developing state that won’t be complete until your son reaches the age of 25 or thereabouts. The frontal lobe, specifically, is not yet formed. Unfortunately, this is the part of the brain that is responsible for his ability to make informed, rational decisions as well as for impulse control.

Without a fully developed frontal lobe, teens are more inclined to take risks. For instance, a teenager may ride his bike to the edge of a ramp and then go over that edge, flying into the air and landing, hopefully upright, on the other side. As an adult and a parent, you can see the danger inherent in this activity. He could break a leg. He could break an arm. He could land on his head. Teens often don’t think about those types of consequences when it comes to dangerous behavior, and they often don’t think about the consequences of abusing drugs in many situations either.

changes how the brain operates, no matter who is abusing it. Adults and teens both have the same kind of compulsions that go hand in hand with this terrible disease, but teens have the added problem of an inability to make rational decisions. This might make seeing the consequences of continued drug abuse and addiction harder.

The Straight Dope on Dopamine

According to Canada’s McGill University, all drugs of abuse affect the neurotransmitter dopamine in some way. Dopamine is the chemical messenger in the brain that allows us to feel good. The brain cells, called neurons, release this chemical naturally. It travels through the synapse to be collected by a receptor on the neighboring cells. If there is too much dopamine, the original cell will pull it back into itself in a delicate balancing act. Opioid drugs, like heroin, imitate dopamine and cause the brain to react to the pleasure elements of the chemical.

Dopamine has another function in the brain as well. It helps us learn from our surroundings and our experiences. When a teen abuses heroin the first time, the excess dopamine-like chemical in the brain teaches him that it is a good feeling. He will “learn” rather quickly that all he has to do to feel that way again is ingest heroin.

Treatment for heroin addiction might involve medications designed to lessen the effects of withdrawal as well as behavioral therapies to “unlearn” certain behaviors. For instance, cognitive behavioral therapy can help your child understand that while heroin makes him feel good temporarily, it can destroy everything in his life that he holds dear – including his relationships with people he loves and a promising future full of opportunities to succeed.

Other aspects of treatment may include:

  • A comprehensive evaluation to determine the extent of his drug abuse and addiction as well as the existence of any co-occurring disorders that may be present and require attention
  • Inpatient care at a residential facility for a period determined by the severity of the illness
  • Participation in group therapy, family therapy and experiential therapies
  • An emphasis on academics to continue your son’s education and prepare him for continuing education after high school
  • Support groups and activities to address emotional issues and build life skills he will take with him for the future

If you are, or someone you love is, a teen who is abusing heroin, it is imperative that you seek help as quickly as possible. To find out how you can help the teen boy in your life overcome this challenge, call Muir Wood today.

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