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Can Early Drug Abuse Stunt Emotional Maturity?

Photo via pixabay

Photo via pixabay

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A study that will be published to this month’s digital issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research gives new meaning to the phrase “act your age.”

Experts have long indicated that addiction or substance abuse can stunt emotional growth; we now have evidence to support that claim. Richard J. Rose, Professor Emeritus in psychology and brain science at Indiana University, Bloomington, and his team lead a groundbreaking and first-of-its-kind study that showed adolescents who abuse alcohol or drugs have enormous difficulties transitioning into adulthood.

Though adults are expected to display an advanced sense of wisdom and a heightened understanding of consequences, these traits can be stunted by addiction.
Researchers were able to identify solid links between adolescent substance abuse and adverse adult outcomes. Though adults are expected to display an advanced sense of wisdom and a heightened understanding of consequences, these traits can be stunted by addiction. Those who drink large volumes of alcohol or abuse drugs early in life will generally experience problems with emotional maturity. That’s why most of the choices made during active drug or alcohol addiction do not reflect the actions of a responsible adult.

Details of the Study

Rose and his colleagues at the Indiana University evaluated data from more than 3,000 Finnish twins. They found that substance abuse, poor health, physical symptoms, multiple sexual partners, life dissatisfaction, truncated education, and financial problems were consistent among the individuals who started abusing drugs or alcohol early in life.

One of the problems associated with early alcohol abuse is alcoholism in adulthood. Additionally, the negative outcomes associated with adolescent alcoholism are not limited to problems with alcohol; early drinkers are also more likely to report physical health problems, educational and occupational difficulties, and relationship problems.

They found that substance abuse, poor health… multiple sexual partners… and financial problems were consistent among the individuals who started abusing drugs or alcohol early in life.

The Indiana University study illustrates the clear difference between emotional and physical age. While physical age is predictable, emotional age is the polar opposite. When teens begin to abuse drugs or alcohol, they can suffer from a case of arrested development.

Research Using Brain Scan Technology

Merrill Norton, a clinical assistant professor of pharmacy at the University of Georgia, is an expert on substance abuse and its effects on brain development. Using positron emission tomography, or PET scans, Norton has been able to show how teenage drug and alcohol abuse leaves the brain stuck at the same level of maturity it was when drug use began.

Norton’s research shows that drug users are permanently stunted. “The younger you are, the more vulnerable you become. And if you have a predisposition to or already have a mental illness, [substance abuse] will make it worse.”

The consequences of adolescent addiction and subsequent lack of emotional growth can include:

  • High addition rates (up to 80 percent)
  • Inability to learn, plan and make decisions
  • High crime rates due to an “inhibition against violence”
  • High unemployment rates
  • Higher rate of imprisonment and early death


If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol or drug abuse, take action and learn about addiction treatment options today. Call our toll-free help line at 1-888-716-9806 and speak to a recovery professional now.



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