Depression and Substance Abuse in Adolescence

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Desperate teen boy in dark room at home

Substance abuse in adolescence is more common than previously thought – and in an alarming number of cases.

The teenage years are a roller coaster ride made more challenging by hormonal changes and the transition from childhood to adulthood. According to teen abuse statistics from the CDC, most teens leave their adolescent years without complication. However, almost 6% of teenagers experience depression.

Teens with depression are motivated to find ways to feel better or numb the difficult emotions they feel. This is where substance abuse in adolescence often starts. If a teenager does not get help from a qualified health professional, they may self-medicate using drugs or alcohol. These substances may provide temporary relief, but they are addictive and increase depressive symptoms over the long term.

Higher rates of substance abuse in adolescence are common with depressive disorders. Depression and substance abuse can cause people to become isolated, have difficulty sleeping, and lack motivation or interest in their daily activities.

Research is necessary to determine whether social-ecological mechanisms influence adolescents’ substance use and depression.

Common Causes of Depression in Adolescents

Although there are various reasons why adolescents fall into the trap of substance abuse disorder, researchers have identified the common causes of these problems. Here are some of the most common causes of mental health issues and substance abuse in adolescence:


Researchers have looked into the possible effects of heredity on depression. Although genetics was not a fundamental cause of depression, they observed that adolescents with a family history of mental health issues are more likely to develop one.

This is also the case for families with a history of substance abuse disorder; offspring have higher chances of getting hooked or triggered by a substance.

Brain Chemistry and Hormones

Neurotransmitters are chemicals naturally found in the body that transmit signals across different areas of the nervous system. Abnormal or impaired neurotransmitters can change how nerve receptors and the nervous system work and lead to depression.

Hormonal imbalances may also contribute to triggering anxiety and depression in adolescents, which may also lead to substance abuse.

Childhood Trauma

A large consensus suggests childhood trauma is significant in the development and progression of depression. According to a study conducted by German researchers, the mental stress caused by severe trauma experienced during childhood can go beyond adulthood. It may prevent adolescents from feeling safe, which may lead to the development of anxiety, flight responses, and eventual depression.

Social Isolation

Even in the most difficult circumstances, loneliness is a common feeling among teens. Studies have shown that loneliness is most common in the teen and young adult years.
Socially isolated teens separated from their family and friends during the pandemic also feel lonely. If a parent is either an essential worker or works remotely, the teen could feel lonely for most of the day.

Peer Pressure

The brain is the last of our organs to finish developing. The prefrontal cortex reaches full maturity sometime in the early- or mid-twenties. It also means that the development of our primary mechanism for analyzing risks and rewards, impulse control, and rational decision-making is five to ten years behind our emotions and other parts of the body.

This also means that certain aspects of emotional and psychological maturity are not as advanced as they should be. This leads to a lack of maturity and impulse control, which explains why increasing societal pressure makes or breaks a teenager’s psyche. Teens abusing drugs largely experience peer pressure and the need to fit in.

Chaotic Home Life

Teens often find it difficult to deal with the mental and physical changes they are experiencing. Adding a chaotic and unstable family environment places another layer of difficulty.
Researchers from the University of New Hampshire found that teens who live in chaotic homes are more likely to have poor health and depression.

How to Know if Your Teenager Is Abusing Substances

It is difficult to determine if your child is among teens abusing drugs. Most of these signs and symptoms common in young adults or teens are also signs and symptoms of mental illnesses.
Don’t be afraid if you suspect your child is under the influence. Instead, be ready to act and open to conversation.

Here are some of the signs you need to look out for:

Shifts in Mood and Personality

Yes, shifting moods and personalities are pretty common during adolescence. However, be mindful of the little ticks in your teenager’s behavior. If your teenager turned a complete 180 from their usual personality, this is a strong sign that something is amiss.

Teenagers who suffer from substance abuse are more likely to exhibit a loss of interest in school work and family affairs. They also tend to grow hostile if you confront them or ask about their activities.

Changes in Hygiene and Appearance

Adolescents are really conscious of their bodies and appearance. Most – if not all – teens invest in how they look and present themselves.

Changes in hygiene and appearance are also signs that your teenager might be going through something or is taking up substance abuse habits. They may neglect their appearance or smell of alcohol or tobacco reeking from their clothes.

Alarming Physical Health

Of course, teenagers love to act lethargic and detached – it comes with the territory. Be mindful when this behavior goes beyond their physical health. Teenagers prone to substance abuse exhibit slurred speech, seizures, and sore spots near the mouth.

Red and heavy-lidded eyes with constricted are also red flags and must be confronted immediately.

What To Do When Your Teenager Is Under the Influence

Here are some things you can do when you suspect your teenager is under the influence.

Have the Talk

Parents can ask simple questions regarding drug addiction in teens with a friendly tone without being too critical. It’s enough to ask questions like “Have any of your family members given you drugs?” and “Have they ever used drugs or alcohol?”

It is also important to immediately respond to teens who admit or deny using drugs.

If you have ever used drugs, please share the lessons you have learned. Consider how you will respond to a question from your teen about drug use. Explain why you have chosen not to use drugs.

Pick a time where you’re unlikely to be interrupted, and know when to cut off a conversation. This includes when you’re upset with your child, when you don’t have the answers, or when your child is drunk.

Avoid scare tactics when talking about drug addiction in teens. Instead, stress the impact of drug use on their life, such as health, sports, and appearance.

Ask for Professional Help

Teens often have trouble dealing with sadness and other negative emotions during adolescence. They may believe that a glass of wine or some marijuana will help them feel better. However, the best way to manage stress is to find emotional support and someone to talk with.

Teens should seek treatment immediately after trying to quit or reduce their substance use.

Depression and drugs may often go hand in hand, but with the proper guidance and medication, it will be easier to go through and have your teenager live a normal life.

Overcome Substance Abuse With Help From Haven House Recovery

Haven House Recovery Center is a recognized rehabilitation center that helps substance abuse in their addiction recovery center in Santa Rosa Beach, FL.

HHRC uses the 12-step program to aid men in detoxing and restoring their health.

For more information on our rehabilitation services, call us today.

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