Respect your brain

This animated video series focuses on the impact of five drugs commonly used in Australia and explores the way these drugs affect a young person’s developing brain.

Drugs and the developing brain

Adolescence and emerging adulthood are periods of significant brain growth and development. Scientists call the adolescent brain highly 'neuroplastic' because it is a time of organising, construction and strengthening of connections in the brain.

The Respect Your Brain animated video series focuses on the impact of five drugs commonly used in Australia and explores the way these drugs affect a young person’s developing brain. The videos explain how different drugs can affect brain development and which areas of the brain are affected. The videos are supported by more in depth information including where a person can seek help for drug and alcohol issues, and links to more drug and alcohol facts.  
 

Animations of lightbulbs with faces

Alcohol and the developing brain

Alcohol is a depressant which is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. It can affect the brain within five minutes of consumption (absorption may be slower if the person has recently eaten).

Drinking, particularly heavy drinking, at any time before, during and after brain development, can have a negative effect on the way the brain works. 

Early alcohol use may interrupt cell growth in the frontal lobe of the brain, an area which does not reach full maturity until a person reaches their mid-twenties. The frontal lobe of the brain controls higher mental processes such as planning. Drinking alcohol interferes with brain development and harms can include poor attention, poor decision making and disrupts the ability to forward plan – impacting on mental health and educational performance and completion.

See the Respect your Brain Alcohol video on YouTube.

Alcohol, antidepressants and the developing brain

Antidepressants are prescribed to help treat mental health problems, like depression and anxiety. These medicines target neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in the brain linked to low mood, such as serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine.

Some types of antidepressants can interact with alcohol in the body with side-effects such as drowsiness, reduced attention and insomnia.  Antidepressants when combined with alcohol (a depressant) can cause enhanced sedation – slow down reaction-time, affect co-ordination, decision making, lead to greater levels of drowsiness than taking either drug alone. This increases the chance of injury and other negative experiences associated with drinking, such as vomiting, fights and unwanted sexual experiences.

Alcohol slows down brain activity in the frontal lobe of the brain, making it harder to regulate stress and other emotions. Drinking alcohol can also intensify negative emotions and worsen underlying mood. There is also a strong link between frequent heavy drinking and symptoms of poor mental health where one disorder serves to maintain and worsen the other.

The safest thing during brain development (which continues until about age 25), is not to use alcohol at all particularly if also prescribed antidepressant medication.

See the Respect your Brain Alcohol & Antidepressants video on YouTube.

Cannabis and the developing brain

Cannabis acts as a central nervous system depressant that also alters sensory perception.

THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol) is the active ingredient in cannabis which is responsible for the mood-altering effects which can make people feel high. Synthetic cannabis functions in a similar way to THC.

Cannabis can affect memory and attention, which can interfere with your ability to take in and remember new information. This can affect everyday life, particularly when learning something new or doing something difficult. Cannabis use can affect mental processing and if cannabis is used heavily over many years, persistent problems with memory, attention and the ability to handle complex information may be experienced.

See the Respect your Brain Cannabis video on YouTube.

MDMA and the developing brain

Methylene DioxyMethAmphetamine (MDMA) – also called ecstasy – is a derivative of amphetamine and has both stimulant and hallucinogenic properties. Stimulants speed up the central nervous system and brain, and hallucinogens can cause people to see, hear, feel or smell things that do not exist. The effects of MDMA can start within an hour and typically last up to about six hours. Some effects may continue for up to 32 hours, and can include feeling down or anxious, sleep problems, depression, concentration issues, increase in body temperature, fluid retention and dehydration.

Mixing MDMA with alcohol or other drugs is also dangerous, and some combinations can lead to an increased chance of overdose.

See the Respect your Brain MDMA video on YouTube.

Vaping and the developing brain

Vapes (also known as electronic cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vape pens, pods or stigs) come in many different types. All have the same basic parts, as shown in the picture below: a battery, coil and cartridge. When the battery is switched on, the coil heats up the e-liquid, which is vapourised and inhaled.

Nicotine is incredibly addictive. Using nicotine-containing vapes means you may develop nicotine dependence. Needing nicotine all the time to feel normal, otherwise you experience withdrawal symptoms like irritability, low mood, and even tremors. Vapes can deliver nicotine at higher doses – some as much as 50 cigarettes (often much more!). Exposing young brains to nicotine early can wire your brain to be more addicted to substances into adulthood.

Vaping can lead to worse mental health, both in the short and long term, causing symptoms of depression within 12 months of starting. In the long term, it can lead to developing depression, anxiety and substance use disorders because of the way nicotine changes the brain.

See the Respect your Brain Vaping video on YouTube.

Need more info?

  • Get the facts about alcohol, cannabis, vaping and MDMA (ecstasy) in the A-Z of Drugs
  • Go to Your Room's For Families page to find information to support families in NSW to reduce the harms caused by alcohol and other drugs, find support services and understand treatment options..

Need help with a drug or alcohol issue?

Call the Alcohol Drug Information Service (ADIS) 24 hour support line if you are having issues with alcohol or other drugs, are concerned about someone else’s alcohol or other drug use, or just have general questions about alcohol.

Phone: 1800 250 015 

Getting Help