The teenage years are a difficult time for children and parents alike, with young people pushing boundaries and parents pushing back in an effort to prevent them from making ill-considered decisions – and one of the most common ways teens challenge the rules is by experimenting with drugs. Depression is one of the biggest Signs of Drug Use in Teens.
Signs of Drug Use in Teens
Substance abuse is so common that every month, nearly a quarter of all teens consume alcohol and about 17% take illegal drugs. But how can you know if your teen is at risk? The key indicators may rest with their emotional well-being.
Depression And Self-Regulation
Experimenting with drugs isn’t just a way of testing a parent’s rules or rebelling against the home environment; often drug use is a sign of depression or anxiety, common conditions among teenagers. In particular, when coping with depression teenagers may experience “negative urgency” or acting with limited consideration for consequences due to emotional distress. This is a result of a yet unformed frontal lobe, the part of the brain that manages impulse control and self-regulation.
The neurological basis for poor decision-making among teens is rarely considered when they come into contact with the law, whether as first time drug offenders or for actions like drunk driving or assault – actions that can stem from drug and alcohol abuse.
Keep this in mind as you talk to your teen about dangerous behaviors and consider appealing to their sense of morality rather than the law, as this may be more effective. Most importantly, though, listen to them and work with your teen to find mutually agreed upon approaches to managing their emotional needs.
Depending on factors such as substance of choice, it can be hard for parents to identify drug use during the early phases – and it’s also easier to prevent if you can spot the risk factors for abuse. One way to do this is by looking for signs of mental illness rather than those of substance abuse and getting your teen into therapy where they can address their problems.
Among the signs parents should look for if concerned their teen may be depressed are lack of interest in normal hobbies, withdrawal from friends, changes in appetite including weight loss or weight gain, and trouble sleeping. Depression may also be tied directly to recent life events, such as bullying, a family loss, serious illness, or other trauma, so look for potential causes of your teen’s distress when addressing their emotional state.
An Unfortunate Match
One of the most challenging factors when trying to help a teen with co-occurring mental health disorders and drug abuse is that the two feed off each other. That’s why it’s so important to address psychological distress early on and monitor your child’s behavior, including medication compliance. The fact is, for teens with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or ADHD, substance abuse is a compensation method. It’s an attempt to self-medicate and manage distress. This isn’t acting out so much as desperation; as a parent, you need to meet that with empathy. Your child is hurting and they need help.
Don’t accuse or judge your child because of poor decisions made in the shadows of emotional distress. Instead, recognize where they are developmentally and find age-appropriate programs to help them resolve these behaviors. It’s important to stop substance abuse early before it impacts your child’s future prospects.
Jenna is a freelance writer from Renton, WA who is particularly interested in travel, nature, and parenting. Follow her on Twitter.