Teen Substance Abuse and Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders

Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders and Teen Substance Abuse Disorders

Substance abuse and addiction in teens is a symptom of unaddressed, underlying issues, including past traumas and mental health disorders. Statistic show that people with mental health disorders are more likely to develop a substance abuse disorder at some point in their lives. Combined with the fact that most people who develop an addiction begin using as children or teens, co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders are common among teens in recovery.

Understanding what that means a parent or guardian will help you reconnect with your child and help them along the path of sobriety.

What is a Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorder?

Co-occurring mental health disorders- also called co-morbid disorders- refer to a number mental health disorders which are commonly seen among teens living with substance abuse disorders. When these disorders are left unaddressed, self-medication through alcohol and drug abuse can lead to physical dependence and addiction. This is especially common among teens and young people who may feel ashamed or fearful of drawing attention to troubling issues.

Substance abuse and mental health disorders often feed each other. The addicted mind believes that the only means of relief is to rely on illicit substances. Teens under the influence of addiction turn to drugs and alcohol to avoid feelings of anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, and other complex emotions. As addiction further develops, abuse continues to stave off negative physical and mental effects.

What are Common Mental Health and Substance Abuse Disorder Combinations?

Certain mental health disorder and substance abuse combinations are more common than others.

‍Alcohol Abuse and Antisocial Personality Disorders

Teen alcohol abuse often begins with a desire to fit in. Alcohol’s ability to lower inhibitions allows young people to act freely, impulsively, and without regard for consequences. Teen drinking trends show a definitive connection between alcohol consumption and teenage mortality including motor vehicle accidents and alcohol poisoning.

Teen alcohol abuse also significantly increases the likelihood of developing an antisocial personality disorder- up to 21 times more likely, in fact. Symptoms of antisocial personality disorders often appear as behavioral issues early in life; the addition of alcohol exaggerates these symptoms:

  • Impulsivity
  • Disregard for laws and consequences
  • Rebellion against social mores
  • Lack of remorse

Coping with antisocial personality disorder without the use of alcohol or other illicit substances is possible. Addressing alcohol abuse as a teen opens up endless possibilities for the future.

Cocaine Abuse and Anxiety Disorders

Cocaine’s impact on the brain can greatly agitate existing anxiety disorders or bolster the development of one. As a stimulant, cocaine heightens the senses and causes a feeling of disassociated euphoria, invincibility, and delusions of grandeur. Cocaine erases social anxiety and self-doubt, making even the most introverted person the life of the party. But as addiction and dependency develops, those very same symptoms return full force, morphing into paranoia and anxiety.

People with pre-existing anxiety disorders who utilize cocaine as a means of self-medication experience depression, agitation, apathy, insomnia, and intense cravings. Others can develop anxiety disorders due to the changes in the brain’s biochemical composition. Coping with co-occurring anxiety disorders and addiction requires learning to be aware of your triggers, coping mechanisms, and other life skills.

Marijuana Abuse and Schizophrenia

The normalization of marijuana use and abuse in modern society has consequences. Because the severity of marijuana abuse is often downplayed in comparison to other, harder drugs, recognizing when marijuana use becomes an addiction. Some common signs to look for include:

  • Habitual daily use
  • The need to smoke before beginning a task or after completing one
  • Prioritizing smoking marijuana over responsibilities
  • Loss of motivation and interests in old hobbies or goals
  • Smoking to avoid withdrawal symptoms or illness

While many note the relaxing effects of marijuana as a mental health benefit of smoking. However, some have more adverse reactions to marijuana use, such as paranoia, anxiety, and distorted perceptions of time. These symptoms of marijuana abuse can agitate pre-existing conditions such as schizophrenia- one of the most stigmatized mental health disorders.

People who experience early symptoms of schizophrenia are reluctant to accept and admit their struggles with mental health for fear of being judged. Self-medication through marijuana abuse exacerbates the condition.

Heroin Abuse and Depression

Heroin’s interaction with the brain’s opioid receptors directly impacts the production of hormones such as dopamine and serotonin. Heroin use floods the brain with the biochemicals responsible for pleasure, causing a euphoric high. This is why heroin is known as one of the most addictive drugs in the world.

Physical dependence and heroin addiction can set it fairly quickly. As heroin causes an overproduction of certain neurotransmitters, the natural production of these hormones decreases greatly. Eventually heroin abuse requires more and more of the drug to receive the same effects. Without using it seems impossible to escape the hazy of depression and experience happiness, which only feeds the addicted mind further.

Addressing teen heroin abuse is two-pronged: physical and mental. Though heroin abuse reduces the natural production of important biochemicals in the brain, but it is possible to restore them to their rightful states. Through medically monitored detox and intensive rehabilitation treatment, your teen can overcome their ties to this potentially lethal illicit substance.

Opioids and PTSD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is not limited to war veterans or survivors of disaster: any high-stress, traumatic event can trigger this potentially debilitating mental health disorder. Anxiety, flashbacks, and other symptoms of PTSD can leave teens desperate for relief- unfortunately some find it by abusing powerful prescription opioids.

Powerful opioids cause dissociation, emotional numbness, and euphoric pleasure. The distraction from PTSD symptoms may seem welcome, but the danger

Misinformation concerning the safety of prescription drugs has greatly contributed to the increase in teen prescription drug abuse in the United States. Opioids and heroin have similar effects on the brain- prescription painkillers are often gateways to heroin abuse. The easy access to prescription painkillers makes opioid abuse far too easy, leading to thousands of overdoses a year. Opioid addiction caused by PTSD increases the risk of overdose, especially when misused in an attempt to address triggered episodes or flashbacks.

Addressing PTSD requires the help and support of loved ones, just as addiction does. Safe Landing’s knowledgeable and compassionate behavioral health experts are here to help guide you through supporting your child as they heal and grow.


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