The influence of substance use on adolescent brain development

Clin EEG Neurosci. 2009 Jan;40(1):31-8. doi: 10.1177/155005940904000110.


Adolescence is a unique period in neurodevelopment. Alcohol and marijuana use are common. Recent research has indicated that adolescent substance users show abnormalities on measures of brain functioning, which is linked to changes in neurocognition over time. Abnormalities have been seen in brain structure volume, white matter quality, and activation to cognitive tasks, even in youth with as little as 1-2 years of heavy drinking and consumption levels of 20 drinks per month, especially if > 4-5 drinks are consumed on a single occasion. Heavy marijuana users show some subtle anomalies too, but generally not the same degree of divergence from demographically similar non-using adolescents. This article reviews the extant literature on neurocognition, brain structure, and brain function in adolescent substance users with an emphasis on the most commonly used substances, and in the context of ongoing neuromaturational processes. Methodological and treatment implications are provided.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development / drug effects*
  • Alcoholism / pathology
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Cues
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Language
  • Marijuana Abuse / pathology
  • Memory / drug effects
  • Organ Size / drug effects
  • Recurrence
  • Research Design
  • Spatial Behavior / drug effects
  • Substance-Related Disorders / pathology*