Mental Health Disorders and Teen Substance Use


Adolescence is a roller coaster ride made more difficult by hormonal changes and the transition to adulthood. According to the CDC, nearly 6% of teens experience depression, unlike the rest of their peers who leave their adolescent years with no complications.

Teens suffering from depression are driven to find ways to feel better and numb their difficult emotions. Unfortunately, one of the ways they find to cope is through substance use. Adolescence is often when substance abuse begins. Teens who don’t seek help from qualified professionals may resort to self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. Although these substances provide temporary relief, they can become addictive or worsen their mental health in the long run.

Depressive disorders are more common when there is a higher rate of substance abuse during adolescence. People may also experience trouble sleeping and become depressed due to substance abuse and mental health disorders.

Common Causes of Mental Health Disorders in Adolescents


Researchers have identified the most common reasons adolescents fall prey to substance abuse disorders. These are the top causes of substance abuse and mental disorders in adolescents:


While genetics is not the main cause of depression in adolescents, researchers have found that those with a family history involving mental health problems are more likely than others to develop it.

This is especially true for families with a history of substance abuse disorder. Children with this background are more likely to get triggered or hooked on a substance.

Brain Chemistry and Hormones

Neurotransmitters are chemicals naturally found in the body that transmit signals to different parts of the nervous system. Abnormal or defective neurotransmitters alter the function of nerve receptors and the nervous system, causing depression and other mental health disorders.

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

Childhood Trauma


Many experts agree that childhood trauma plays a significant role in the development and progression of depression. German researchers found that severe childhood trauma can cause mental stress that extends into adulthood. This may make adolescents feel unsafe, leading to anxiety, flight reactions, and eventual depression.

Social Isolation

Research has shown that loneliness is more common in teens than in young adults.

Teenagers isolated from their friends and family felt lonely during the pandemic. Teens with parents who are essential workers or remote workers feel isolated and lonely most of the day.

Peer Pressure

The brain is the final organ to finish development during our mid to late twenties. Our prefrontal cortex, which handles analyzing risks and rewards, impulse control, and rational decision-making, has a five to ten-year delay compared to our emotions and other body parts.

This also means that a teen’s psychological and emotional maturity is not yet fully developed, making them less mature and more impulsive. This also makes them subject to increasing social pressure; teens who abuse drugs face peer pressure and a strong desire to fit in.

Chaotic Home Life

Teens often have trouble coping with the physical and mental changes they are going through; an unstable or chaotic family life only adds another layer of difficulty.

Research from the University of New Hampshire has shown that teenagers who live in chaotic households are more likely to suffer from depression and have poorer health.

How To Tell If Your Teenager is Abusing Substances


It’s difficult to tell if your teen is abusing drugs or dealing with a mental health issue; substance abuse and mental health disorders often share the same signs and symptoms.

Don’t hesitate to speak out if you suspect your child may be under the influence. Instead, be prepared to act and be open for conversation.

According to a Santa Rosa beach recovery center, these are the signs to watch out for:

Shifts in Mood & Personality

Teens often experience shifts in their mood and personality. However, be aware of even the tiniest changes in their behavior. A teen acting out of their normal personality is a sign that there is something wrong.

Teenagers who are addicted to substances are more likely than others to lose interest in school and family affairs. They may become hostile if you confront them or ask about their activities.

Changes in Hygiene & Appearance

Adolescents care a lot about their appearance and body and are very conscious of how they present themselves.

On the other hand, your teen may be using substances if they’re neglecting their hygiene and appearance. They may smell like tobacco or alcohol, skip baths, or not change their clothes.

Alarming Health Situations


Teenagers are naturally prone to acting lethargic and disengaged; it is part of the territory. However, be mindful if they are lethargic due to issues with their physical health. Teenagers who are prone to substance abuse have slurred speech, seizures, and sores around the mouth.

Red eyes, constricted eyes, and heavy-lidded eyes are red flags that must be addressed immediately.

Key Takeaway

Adolescence is a period of significant change for all of us. Some emerge unscathed, while some experience mental health disorders and substance abuse.

Mental health disorders often push adolescents to substances to numb their pain. However, this often leads to dependence, abuse, and more unstable mental health. Their genetics, home life, brain chemistry, trauma, and other factors contribute to their condition.

Adolescents may show signs and symptoms of substance abuse and mental health disorders. If you suspect they’re under the influence, communicate with them and seek professional help immediately.