It’s common for teen substance use to begin because of peer pressure or because a teen wants to experiment. However, what keeps them using drugs and alcohol is another story. Many teens who experiment might reach a point when they feel done. And some teens will eventually see through peer pressure. Yet, teens who continue to drink or use drugs might do so if they are struggling inside.
On the one hand, it’s easy to manage the outer life. Teens might quickly pick up the routine of doing homework and chores. But on the inside, there may be a great deal of emotions and disturbing thoughts to manage. Plus, bodily sensations that accompany those thoughts and feelings might even be painful. For many teens, having to manage the inner experience is simply too much.
Because of these challenging experiences, many teens may turn to drugs and alcohol for relief. In fact, a primary reason people use substances is to escape from emotional or psychological pain. They want to escape from experiences such those described below:
Anger is a difficult emotion to manage. On the one hand it’s dangerous. It could lead to fights, destruction of property, or drinking. On the other hand, it’s powerful. It’s an emotion that gets us pumped up – and what do you do with all that energy? Because anger is such a powerful emotion, when it’s used in harmful ways, anger can be destructive. Anger is an emotion that is often directed outwardly, but it can be directed inwardly too. Anger turned inward can also be destructive, sometimes leading to depression and anxiety, and this too can lead to drinking, drugs, and teen substance abuse. Some people use anger as a way to feel powerful and strong. However, doing so can sometimes be destructive in relationships.
Depression is a mood more than a feeling. It tends to be a long-lasting experience of having little to no energy, feeling sad, and experiencing shame and guilt. Depression can also have many debilitating symptoms such as lack of energy, lack of motivation, and loss of desire to engage in pleasurable activities. Teens may lose interest in life. Because this psychological state. depression can become difficult to deal with. This is especially true if teens are also struggling with suicidal thoughts. As a result, adolescents may turn to drinking, drugs, and teen substance abuse as a means to feel better. In fact, it’s very common for teens to eventually struggle with both depression as well as an addiction.
Just like the co-existence of depression and addiction, there is commonly the co-existence of anxiety and addiction. Anxiety is an ongoing feeling of nervousness or stress, even without cause. Anxiety is not the everyday stress most people feel. Instead, it’s a debilitating form of stress that gets in the way of functioning in life, such as not being able to work, have relationships, or enjoy life. Teens who experience anxiety might feel this way when they first wake up in the morning and even throughout the day. When anxiety is persistent and continuous and lasts for more than 6 months, there might be a mental illness.
Another very difficult inner experience is auditory hallucinations. Hearing voices is commonly a symptom of schizophrenia. This is a very difficult experience to manage, especially during adolescence. If a teen is prone to schizophrenia, they will develop the illness in their late teens. The psychological disorder includes hallucinations, delusions (having odd beliefs), and lack of energy. Because the illness comes on during adolescence, some teens may not know what they are experiencing. They might instead feel as though they need to manage it on their own, and may attempt to do so through substance abuse and the use of drugs or alcohol as a means to cope. Fortunately there are medications that can help quell voices, but frequently the inner experience is can be difficult for teens – especially in the beginning.
Whether it is anger, depression, anxiety, or voices, these don’t have to be the reasons that lead to teen substance abuse such as drinking or drug use in teens. For this reason, it’s important that parents and caregivers stay connected to their teens about what they are experiencing and how they are doing. If parents or caregivers have any concerns, they should bring them to a mental health provider immediately. Although teen substance abuse is an easy route to take, developing an addiction is frequently the result. To prevent this, have your teen undergo a mental health assessment to be safe.