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Co-Occurring Depression and Teen Substance Abuse

The teenage years can be an emotional roller coaster, with physical, emotional, hormonal and social pressures and changes that are unique to young people. It’s not surprising that an estimated 20 percent of all teens suffer from clinical depression. But it is concerning that at least 70 percent of teens with depression go undiagnosed and never receive treatment, which leads many of them to self-medicate by using drugs and alcohol to numb feelings of sadness or hopelessness. This could eventually lead to a substance use disorder.

At Safe Landing, we specialize in treating depression and other co-occurring mental health disorders along with your teen’s substance abuse problem. Our treatment plans include a combination of evidence-based therapies and supplemental care, and we provide individual counseling to get to the root causes of your teen’s addiction. We teach life skills and coping mechanisms that help your teen learn how to deal with difficult situations and feelings without turning to drugs or alcohol, and family counseling to work through issues that may be contributing to addiction. To learn more about our specialized programs to treat teen depression and substance use, call 855-993-6311.

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What causes teen depression?

As a parent, it’s important that you be concerned about your child’s mental health as well as their physical health. When we look at teen depression statistics, we see that depression is especially prevalent among teens with an unstable home life, those who have experienced a stressful or traumatic event, or those in a family that has a history of depression or other mental health disorders. Girls are more at risk than boys, studies have found.

Like adult depression, teen depression can have various instigating factors. The causes are not entirely understood, but contributors tend to include:

There are also many risk factors that increase the likelihood of a teen developing depression. They may be more at risk if they have certain mental health, physical health, or learning conditions, such as an anxiety disorder, a learning disability, or asthma. Other teens at risk are those with low self-esteem, those who face bullying or other situations that can lower self-esteem, and those with some other negative personality traits like being pessimistic. Some people also face specific types of situations that increase risk, such as abuse, being homosexual or transgender without support, or experiencing family problems.

How do teen depression and substance abuse relate?

Substance abuse doesn’t always happen by itself. There can be other problems going on at the same time in a teen, including a mental health disorder. In fact, as many as 70 percent of teens who abuse substances have a co-occurring mental health disorder. One of the most common types of mental health disorders they may face is depression.

Depression and substance use disorder can contribute to each other as co-occurring disorders. Engaging in abuse of alcohol or drugs can actually worsen depression. At the same time, having depression is a risk factor for using drugs and alcohol as a teen or at any age. In addition, some of the same contributors and risk factors of one may increase the likelihood of the other as well. For instance, having a pattern of negative thoughts may contribute to both depression and substance use.

Drinking alcohol may numb teens’ feelings of sadness or hopelessness, and drugs may stimulate their brain in a way that improves their mood, at least in the beginning. While these actions may ease the symptoms of depression in the short term, they may eventually lead to full blown teen substance abuse and addiction in time. In many cases your teen’s depression may become stronger and debilitating.

Even if your teen doesn’t have an addiction now, beginning to use substances at an early age increases the likelihood that they will develop one at some point in their lives. Adolescent substance use makes substances a part of the person’s life and teaches a teen to use them as a way to cope. Also, addictive substances can change the brain and body processes over time, which can increase the likelihood of the substance use disorder progressing, as well as mental health disorders like depression or anxiety.

What are teen depression symptoms?

How do you know if your teenager has depression? Teenagers are often reluctant to share or talk about their feelings, especially with their parents. It may be difficult to realize this is the problem, because the teen is having the experience internally. Nonetheless, there are certain depression symptoms to look out for and ask your teen about.

Depression is marked by consistently feeling sad for an extended period of time. A depressed teen can be impacted on many levels, including thought patterns, behaviors, emotions, and more. A teen is likely to go through emotional changes, such as feeling hopeless, angry, or annoyed. You may not be able to see all of these problems, as many of them happen on the inside. Nonetheless, you may notice some outward signs of inner turmoil, such as your teen expressing emotions differently than normal, becoming more emotional, having sudden crying spells, or easily becoming angry.

Also, depression may show itself through outward symptoms that may signal that your teen has depression. Generally, these more apparent signs include changes to the teen’s normal behavior. Take notice of teen depression symptoms like these:

Another behavioral sign of teen depression is the use of drugs or alcohol. If you recognize these symptoms and suspect that your son or daughter is depressed and using drugs or alcohol, it’s important that you talk to them about your concerns and seek the help of professionals such as the clinicians, therapists, and counselors at Safe Landing.We focus exclusively on teenagers and helping them overcome co-occurring mental health disorders along with their substance abuse. We fully understand how to find the underlying causes of your teen’s issues, how to treat them, and how to prepare your son or daughter for a happy, healthy life.

How to help your depressed teen

Many parents make the mistake of believing that depression and substance abuse can be managed by enforcing more discipline and boundaries on their teen. In reality, this tactic may only make your child’s depression worse and will likely have little effect on their drug or alcohol use.

It’s best not to assume your teen has depression. Instead, try to learn more and open the lines of communication. Knowing the signs of depression in teenagers can help. Talk to your teen about symptoms you have noticed, expressing concern and the desire to support them. Ask them if they have been struggling with internal feelings of sadness, anger, worthlessness, and others.

Also, keep in mind that a teenager will go through emotional and behavioral changes based on the life stage they are in and the challenges they are facing. Try to get a handle on whether your teen can manage the situations and feelings they face. Also, aim to find out if the feelings they are having happen from time to time, or if they are more consistent and disturbing to their everyday life. You may want to ask how your teen is handling their feelings and get a sense of whether they are turning to unhealthy coping strategies like using drugs or alcohol.

If your teen seems to be handling their emotions and experiences, continue to support them and encourage healthy coping strategies such as deep breathing, journaling, exercising, and talking to others. But if you think your teen is overwhelmed by life or unable to manage their emotions, consider reaching out to a professional for help. This is also advisable if your teen is turning to drugs or alcohol to manage their feelings or handle situations, or if you think suicidal thoughts, self-harm, or other safety concerns are at play. It’s also smart to continue to pay attention to a teen who seems to be coping well to make sure that continues to be the case.

Depression won’t necessarily go away without treatment, and it poses a risk of suicide. Only a medical professional can properly diagnose depression, which can help with the process of finding and providing effective treatment. If you’re concerned about possible depression in your teenager, you can bring them to your family doctor or to a mental health professional like the ones we have at Safe Landing. It’s helpful for the professional to be experienced in working with mental health concerns in this age group, as our professionals are at our teen-focused facility.

Treating depression in teenagers

Depression treatment begins with a diagnosis from a medical professional. The evaluation process can vary, but it may include numerous components. A professional like your doctor or a psychiatrist, or both working in tandem, may perform a physical exam and lab tests to check whether there are medical concerns that may be part of the problem. A psychological evaluation generally includes questions to get a sense of how your teen is feeling, as well as their thought patterns and behaviors.

The information collected during an evaluation helps clarify whether your teen meets the criteria for depression, as well as substance use disorder. The professional may narrow down to a specific type of depression and note whether there are signs of any other co-occurring disorders, such as bipolar disorder or an anxiety disorder. Having a clear picture of the full mental and physical health situation helps give the best idea of what your teen is experiencing and potential causes. This information can also help to inform the best individual treatment plan.

Treatment for teenage depression often includes medication and/or therapy. Entering a treatment program or hospital may also help, especially for teens who have a risk of self-harm or severe depression. Certain antidepressant medications are FDA-approved for teenagers, but it’s important to be aware that they have a risk of side effects, including a potential increased risk of suicidal thoughts or behavior in people under the age of 25. Nonetheless, this is considered a situation where the benefits tend to outweigh the risks. The professionals working with your teen could discuss your child’s treatment options and treatment plan further with you to come up with the right solution for the situation.

Therapy is another option for depression treatment, whether on its own or in combination with medication as part of a personal treatment plan. There are different types of therapy that may help when provided by trained and experienced mental health professionals.

At Safe Landing, we specialize in treating depression and other co-occurring mental health disorders along with your teen’s substance abuse problem. Our treatment plans include a combination of evidence-based therapies and supplemental care, and we provide individual counseling to get to the root causes of your teen’s addiction.

We teach life skills and coping mechanisms that help your teen learn how to deal with difficult situations and feelings without turning to drugs or alcohol, and family counseling to work through issues that may be contributing to addiction. Our program offers different types of therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy. We also provide treatments that target some of the causes and contributors to depression and substance abuse, such as self-esteem building, emotional regulation, and trauma therapy.

Our center offers a variety of treatment types, ensuring you can find the right kind of support for your child. We are able to support teens through residential inpatient programs that keep them on site during treatment. If they need more flexibility to work around school or other responsibilities, we also provide comprehensive outpatient care. Our experienced professionals can treat teens for addiction to alcohol or other drugs, as well as a range of co-occurring mental health disorders. It’s common for depression to be present along with anxiety, so we can treat an anxiety disorder as well if needed. Our treatment will be based on an individualized recovery plan for your teen.

Call Safe Landing today at 855-993-6311 to learn more about how we can treat your teen’s depression.

Learn more about how we can help your teen with depression.

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