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03-13 Teen substance abuse and depression risk factors for suicide

Posted in Teen Depression

Teen substance abuse and depression risk factors for suicide


While it is common for adolescents to experience occasional periods of depression while passing through the volatile teen years, any signs of serious depression must be addressed. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has reported that 20 percent of teens will experience depression at some point.

To distinguish between normal teenage angst and a more serious depressive disorder, the Suicide Prevention Education Alliance has provided a list of symptoms to watch out for. Children who present five or more of the following symptoms lasting at least two weeks may have a depressive illness and should be assessed by a mental health professional:

  • Persistent sadness or anxiety
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Decline in school performance
  • Feelings of hopelessness or desperation
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or shame
  • Change in sleeping patterns
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Decreased energy and fatigue
  • Restlessness and irritability or increased anger
  • Inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • Increased alcohol and/or drug use
  • Thoughts of suicide or wishing to be dead, or recent attempt to commit suicide

The risk of teen suicide

In an attempt to self-medicate their pain away, a teen may begin to use drugs and alcohol, creating a co-occurring condition that could prove life threatening. One of the less discussed dangers of teen drug and alcohol use and subsequent addiction is the high risk of suicide that may result from this behavior. Adolescents who use these drugs regularly are more likely to not only consider suicide, but to act on these thoughts.

Co-occurring disorders such as substance use and depression can have grave consequences. Depression can cause feelings of hopelessness and despair and adding a depressant, such as alcohol, as a means of anesthetizing their depression can lead to suicidal ideation or actual attempts.

Alcohol is the drug most commonly used among teenagers. About 80 percent of high school seniors have used alcohol at some point. Typical risk factors leading to teen alcohol abuse are:

  • Mental health disorders
  • Family history of alcoholism
  • Dysfunctional or disjointed family situation
  • Physical, sexual or emotional violence that the teen has either been the victim of or witnessed regularly.

Teens realizing they have a dependence on drugs or alcohol can start to feel helpless and trapped in their addictions.  When the high or buzz wears off, they are left feeling hopeless , putting them at risk of suicide, especially if they have a dual diagnosis, such as alcoholism and depression.  Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people aged fifteen to nineteen. Of teens that have completed suicide, 90 percent were found to abuse drugs or alcohol.

The statistics are grim: 20 percent of teenagers seriously consider suicide. Fourteen percent of teens have made a suicide plan. Approximately two million U.S. teenagers attempt suicide each year. 8 percent of teens make a suicide attempt, and of them 70 percent are complicated by drugs or alcohol. Sadly, about 2,000 youth aged ten-nineteen complete a suicide each year in the U.S.

Warning signs of suicidal behavior include:

  • Change in eating or sleeping habits
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and regular activities
  • Violent actions, rebellious behavior, or running away
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Unusual neglect of personal appearance
  • Marked personality change
  • Persistent boredom, difficulty concentrating, or decline in the quality of schoolwork
  • Frequent complaints about physical symptoms, often related to emotions such as stomachaches, headaches, or fatigue
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Not tolerating praise or rewards

What can be done?

Being tuned in and aware of your teen’s moods and behaviors is key. Review the list of warning signs and if there are more than five behaviors present for over two weeks, it is time to seek out help. A professional psychologist can make a diagnosis and prescribe talk therapy and medication. If it is determined that the teenager has a drug or alcohol dependence, a rehabilitation facility that specializes in dual diagnosis such as Sovereign Health will be recommended. If detoxification is needed, the supervision of a professional clinician is crucial.

Communication with your adolescent is paramount. They will go to extremes to hide their emotional pain from you, as well as their drug or alcohol use. They assume you can’t understand their pain, so it is imperative that the lines of communication are open and the teen does not feel isolated or his or her problems trivialized. Support and care by family and friends is essential during the treatment process.

Sovereign Health Group is a residential rehabilitation facility specializing in Dual Diagnosis to treat co-occurring conditions, reducing the risk of relapse. Contact Sovereign at (619) 760-0242.


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