Teen Mental Health and Substance Abuse

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Is on the Rise for Teens Because of COVID-19

Since March, everything in our world has been turned upside down. Sporting venues have shut down, restaurants may offer only delivery services, and work and school has moved into the home. And over the last seven months, you may have noticed your teenager has been acting a little differently.

Teenagers are facing greater mental health challenges than ever before, and many may turn to substance abuse to cope. Read on to learn more about how substance abuse has changed among teenagers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Substance Abuse Risks Among Teens

Before we dive into the additional problems the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, let’s talk some about substance abuse among teenagers in normal circumstances. Puberty can be a challenging, stressful time, and many teenagers turn to drugs, alcohol, and tobacco as a coping mechanism. There may also be pressure from friends to try drugs as a way to rebel and fit in.

By twelfth grade, about 60 percent of teenagers have tried alcohol, and about 20 percent have used medications without a prescription. About half of high schoolers say that they have tried marijuana. And roughly 40 percent of teenagers between ninth and twelfth grade have tried cigarettes.

Mental Health Challenges of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a variety of mental health challenges for teenagers and adults alike. For one thing, the constant stress of living in a disease-ridden world has left many of us at higher risk for anxiety and depression. Even routine tasks like going to the grocery store or attending school may now carry an added layer of stress.

Teenagers have also become more isolated than ever before in the face of the pandemic. With schools shut down or using virtual learning, adolescents can no longer see their friends as often as they used to. They may also not be able to participate in their usual extracurricular activities thanks to COVID shutdowns.

Connection Between Trauma and Substance Abuse 

In addition to the continual strain the COVID-19 pandemic is causing, it has also been a source of trauma for today’s teenagers. Most of us grew up believing certain things in life were constant – school, sports, graduation ceremonies, and more. But today’s teenagers have had all that taken away from them as we’ve had to learn to live with the consequences of the pandemic.

This trauma is part of what causes teenagers to turn to substance abuse. Most teenagers haven’t yet learned healthy coping mechanisms to deal with stress, and substance abuse may seem like a good option to relieve that stress. Once the teen associates that substance abuse with stress relief, they may have a hard time finding other ways to deal with the challenges they face.

Recent Teen Substance Abuse by the Numbers

So how has teenage substance abuse changed since the start of the pandemic in March? According to one study, alcohol use among teenagers has risen some during the pandemic.

Before COVID, this study estimates 28.6 percent of teens used alcohol. During the pandemic, that number rose to 30.4 percent.

The frequency with which teenagers use marijuana and alcohol has also risen during the pandemic. Before COVID, teens reported using alcohol only about twice a month. That number rose to almost three times a month during the pandemic.

Cannabis use days also increased slightly from an average of 3.28 days per three weeks before the pandemic to an average of 3.76 days per three weeks during the pandemic.

Common Drugs 

There are a few drugs teenagers may use more commonly than others. Most teenagers aren’t using heroin, cocaine, or other “serious” drugs during their high school years. Instead, you’re much more likely to see drugs that seem like “not such a big deal” showing up among teenage crowds.

Alcohol is by far the most common drug of choice for teenagers, though marijuana isn’t far behind. Many teenagers have tried cigarettes, and vaping has become frighteningly trendy in recent years. Teenagers who feel more pressure to perform well academically may also use drugs like Adderall to get their school work done.

Warning Signs to Watch For

If you are the parent or loved one of a teenager, there are a few warning signs that can let you know they may be using drugs. Their mood may change even more than normal, and they may be unable to focus, have a sudden loss of inhibitions, or lose motivation.

Keep in mind that some of this is to be expected as a normal part of puberty. You want to keep an eye on drastic shifts.

Your teenager may also begin to act differently in school, or they may become unusually clumsy. They may have burn marks on their fingers or lips, their face may often be flushed, and you may notice them wearing long sleeves even in hot weather. They may have sores around their mouth, they might get lots of unexplained nosebleeds, or they may seem sick much more often.

How to Help an Addicted Teen

If you think your teenager may have a substance abuse problem, the first and most important thing you can do is let them know you are there for them. Responding with anger will only make them think they can’t turn to you for help. Instead, focus on showing compassion and letting them know that, no matter what problem they bring to you, they’ll be in a safe, trusted space and that you’ll get them the help they need.

If you find out your teenager is using drugs, talk to their school counselor about resources to help. They may be able to direct you to a therapist who specializes in working with teenagers and substance abuse. Keep lines of communication open between you and your teenager, and continue to show them compassion and love throughout this process.

Care for Your Teen’s Mental Health 

Substance abuse is a dangerous problem among teenagers, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made it worse. Teenagers are facing worse mental health problems than ever before, and many may turn to drug use to cope. If you suspect your teenager may be using drugs, give them a safe space to talk to you about it, and make sure they get the help they need with compassion and care.

If you’d like to find the right help for your teenager, reach out to us at Cenikor. We are a place for change that can help you and your teen find better health and better lives. Contact us today to learn more about our addiction recovery programs.

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