Substance abuse is a persistent problem on college campuses. What role does brain chemistry play in young people’s vulnerability to alcohol and other drugs? These two articles suggest some answers.
What is it that drives some college students to drink to excess again and again and again? This piece from NPR explains that there are multiple factors driving college binge drinking. One is brain chemistry. College-aged brains are still developing, so while the part of the brain that seeks reward and stimulation is fully mature by the time 18 year olds begin their freshman year, the bits that control impulsive behavior still have a ways to go. This imbalance is what makes taking too many shots or playing drinking games seem so appealing. The other big factor may seem more obvious, but is also more controllable. The lower the average price of a drink in an area, the more binge drinking is reported amongst local college students.
A new study from the British journal The Lancet Psychiatry suggests that teenaged marijuana use correlates strongly to a variety of alarming outcomes. Teen pot-smokers were 60% less likely than peers to graduate from high school, 60% less likely to finish college, seven times more likely to attempt suicide and eight times more likely to use other illegal drugs than their non-smoking counterparts. Significantly, the authors found that even “low levels” of marijuana use (as infrequently as once per month) greatly increased teens risks of the aforementioned negative outcomes when compared to teens who did not smoke marijuana at all, suggesting that “there may not be a threshold where [cannabis] use can be deemed safe” for adolescents. With the legal landscape shifting quickly on the issue of marijuana possession and use, it seems clear that any legislative reforms must take pains to keep cannabis out of the hands of teen users.