If you live in Summit County, you most likely saw this recent story in The Park Record: Out of the shadows: Park City, seemingly idyllic, confronts drug problem. And while this situation saddens me, it isn’t really surprising. Adolescent substance abuse is a nationwide problem that isn’t going to disappear any time soon.

Marijuana is among the most commonly used – and abused – drugs among teens because many believe it’s not addictive. However, research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) shows that 9% of marijuana users eventually become addicted to the drug. And this number jumps to 17% for users who start in their adolescence. The same study shows that 25-50% of daily users eventually develop an addition to the drug. As more high school seniors now smoke pot than smoke cigarettes, you have to wonder – what does this mean for their future?

According to Dr. Mark Olfson with Columbia University Medical Center and the New York State Psychiatric Institute in New York City, people “who may be considering using [marijuana] should know that by using [it] they are approximately doubling their risk of developing a drug use disorder over the next few years.” Which makes sense when you consider that a recent NIDA survey also showed that nearly one quarter of American high schoolers now use at least one type of illicit drug – such as amphetamines, ecstasy (MDMA), cocaine and opioid painkillers.

What happens when teens become addicted to drugs? The consequences can include brain abnormalities, slowed thinking, impaired learning and memory. Drugs can also deplete the brain of certain chemicals, sending an adolescent into depression and leaving him or her susceptible to even more destructive mood disorders. Substance abuse in high school can also cause stunted growth: studies have shown that high school boys addicted to marijuana can be an average of 4.6 inches shorter by the time they reached the age of 20.

So what can be done to help? If you are a parent of a teen – or know of a teen – who is showing any signs of addiction, now is the time to reach out to a professional. At The Dell Center, we provide specialized help for high schoolers who are addicted to substances including alcohol, marijuana and other illicit drugs. However, the longer you wait, the harder the recovery will be.