Marijuana vs. Alcohol: What’s Worse For Teenagers?

Alcohol is legal for adults to use—as is marijuana in many states—but that doesn’t mean it’s safe. And for teens and young adults, it’s far less safe, a key reason legislators always factor age restrictions into marijuana- and alcohol-related laws.

Many studies have shown that marijuana and alcohol can both have a negative effect on teens. And if you’re a parent, you may be wondering: which danger should you be most concerned about?

The effect on the teen brain

Alcohol has been proven to have negative effects on the brain through multiple studies over the years. Heavy drinkers may deal with diminished gray matter in the brain along with loss of attention span and memory.

More specifically, researchers have found that nerve damage in the brain can contribute to ongoing attention span issues in boys and visuospatial issues in girls (Psychology of Addictive Behaviors).

Marijuana has also proven to have an impact on the developing teen brain. In fact, some studies have argued that marijuana can be worse for the teen brain than alcohol, contributing to a long-term decline in cognitive ability (American Journal of Psychiatry).

Effects on other organs

The effects of alcohol on the human body are well documented. Continued alcohol use may contribute to liver disease and eventual liver failure. Alcohol poisoning is an immediate danger with alcohol use. The body may be subject to vomiting, dangerous blood sugar levels, and trouble breathing, and there is a risk of death.

While marijuana may be prescribed by doctors for some medical issues, it is still a health risk for recreational users, especially teens. According to NIH, marijuana use can contribute to long-term breathing problems and an increased risk of heart attack.

Marijuana vs. alcohol for teens

Marijuana and alcohol both affect teens—and both can become a problem. Rather than asking which is worse, you should learn as much as you can and talk to your teen often and openly.

Seeking help for a teen with marijuana or alcohol dependence

If you are struggling to talk with a teen about marijuana or alcohol use or abuse, you can call our team or start with our guide, “Getting Past No.” Parents are also invited to visit one of our Rosecrance locations for a free assessment.

Parents can find hope and support through Rosecrance’s team approach to treating teen substance use. We believe that involving the family throughout a teen’s journey gives them the best possible chance at recovery. For more information, call (844) 711-5106.