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12-10 Not just a phase: Teen substance abuse and mental health disorders

Not just a phase: Teen substance abuse and mental health disorders

The old adage, wounds heal and scars fade, rings true for people of all ages dealing with physical or mental pain. Teenagers may be spry and full of youth but are not immune to pain. Teens who never receive proper treatment for substance abuse or mental health issues, may continue an endless cycle of pain, well into adulthood.

More than just a choice

The misconceptions of substance abuse on the teenage brain run a mile long. While drugs will not fry the brain, they can re-wire it. In other cases, substance abuse and mental health issues can be co-occurring and mutually parasitic.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse or NIDA, covers the effects of drug use on the teenage brain. A variety of drugs cause the brain to release chemicals stimulating the area of the brain known as the reward circuit. While a teenager may experiment with a substance initially, through repeated use, the teen loses control to insatiable addiction

NIDA explains how the harmful substances utilizes the reward circuit and, “The brain notes that something important is happening that needs to be remembered, and teaches us to do it again and again.” Teenagers may assume substance abuse will only decrease the quality of school work but it can also affect social life, level of interest in once loved activities and impair driving.

NIDA clarifies, “Early exposure to drugs abuse may change the brain in ways that increase the risk for mental disorders,” and that, “Early symptoms of a mental disorder may indicate an increased risk for later drug use.” An example can be found in a teenager abusing substances to self-medicate for a mental health disorder.

Communication is the key

A teenager left to deal with a mental health disorder on their own, may abuse substances in the form of self-medication for the disorder. NIDA explains self-medication: “Patients suffering from anxiety or depression may rely on alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs to temporarily alleviate their symptoms.”

One story of a teenager’s struggle with generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, is presented by kidshealth.org as an example for proper treatment. The teenager, Rachael, found herself experiencing high levels of anxiety and worry. She started having trouble in school, could no longer eat and was alienating herself from friends. Rachael’s disorder was beginning to take over her life.

Fortunately, Rachael’s parents took her to a psychologist and, “Worked on techniques to help me overcome my worries such as breathing, not jumping to catastrophic conclusions, and thinking rationally.” Rachael still battles anxiety on a regular basis but can handle it better through therapy and medication.

Had Rachael’s parents not sought treatment from a professional, Rachael could have ended up with higher levels of GAD and a possible co-occurring substance abuse. The National Alliance on Mental Illness finds, “About a third of all people experiencing mental illnesses and about half of people living with severe mental illnesses also experience substance abuse.” If a teenager is struggling with substance abuse or a mental health disorder, parents need to seek professional help and not write it off as puberty.

Treating an issue early on is the best way to help your teen get on the right track for a bright future, helping the wounds to heal and the scars to fade. The Rancho San Diego Sovereign Health Facility strives to help teenagers dealing with substance abuse and mental health issues, get back on track. We offer personalized treatment methods to treat all co-occurring conditions. Call our 24/7 helpline and begin treatment today.

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