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Self-Medication in Teens: The Why

Self-medication is one of the many ways people young and old can sometimes turn to when looking to relieve stress, anxiety, unresolved trauma, depression, and other struggles of everyday life. It’s any time one tries to treat their own ailment without speaking to a doctor.

From peer pressure to the struggles of growing up to learning to deal with any of many problems, teens are especially likely to try self-medicating through a variety of substances. As parents and caregivers, it’s important to note there are several reasons that your teens may self-medicate. When you see your child self-medicating to deal with underlying issues, note that it’s important to treat not only the self-medicating issue, but also the mental disorder or other issue behind the substance. There are two issues, not just one.

The first part in understanding self-medication in your teen is to understand the why, so you can better understand the reason behind the behavior – whether alcohol abuse, smoking marijuana, using other drugs, or using food as a source of comfort.

Teens self-medicate for any number of reasons including:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Attention-deficit disorder (ADD) or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

  • Stress

  • Unresolved childhood trauma

  • Anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, selective mutism, or separation anxiety disorder

  • Attempting to treat chronic pain or illnesses

  • Peer or social pressures

Teens who struggle to fit in, are under significant stress at school or in other parts of their lives, or have anxiety may turn to self-medication because it can be easier to get access to drugs or alcohol through social media or peer groups than by going through a doctor.

Often times when people self-medicate due to stress or worry of everyday life, it’s actually due to larger anxiety disorders whose symptoms can get worse with the increased use of drugs or alcohol. Studies confirm that self-medication is one of the most common issues connecting mental illness and substance abuse.

Because of this linkage, it’s critical parents understand what may be driving their children to self-medicate by looking at changes in their behavior, moods, patterns, and habits. In our next blog, we’ll cover the ways that teens self-medicate to deal with problems and equip you with ways to handle help your teen deal with problems and stressors in a healthy, productive way.

For help in identifying if your teen is suffering from anxiety or depressive disorders, visit one of our previous blogs below:

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