The Link Between Substance Abuse and Teen Suicide

Published On 08-February-2020
By Tim Wood

The majority of people who use drugs first tried it out when they were a teenager, therefore it's common to assume that drug use is highest towards the end of people's teenage years.

However, it is important to recognize that those popular assumptions do not mean that the majority of teenagers are addicts. While the avoidance of drug use altogether is the best way to avoid addiction, experimentation is a natural part of being a teenager. Experimentation does not equal addiction.

"I am Just Trying it Out."

Teenagers may experiment with drug use for a variety of reasons. For instance, they may simply be curious or feel pressure from all their friends.

It can also be an overwhelming feeling of stress, a variety of emotional issues such as depression or anxiety, or a general desire to escape reality for a little bit.

No matter what the reasons, most teenagers first use drugs because they 'just want to try it out.'

If a teen is using drugs or considering using drugs, most people will have more success if they talk to the teen to address the reason they want to do drugs.

Doing so is more likely to prevent future drug use rather than just delay the experimentation.

Reasons Behind Teen Drug Use

Many teenagers use drugs, and most will have slightly different reasons for doing experimenting.

Here are some of the most common reasons explained:

Warning Signs of Teenage Drug Use

There are warning signs of teenage drug use, but it can be hard to differentiate whether some of them are drug use or a teen being a teen.

The main thing to look out for is if any of the signs listed below, that were not a problem before, start appearing in your teenager's life:

  • Bad grades/trouble in school
  • Poor hygiene/lack of care for their appearance
  • Quitting their favorite activities
  • Secretive behavior and missing curfews
  • Increased desire for food, "The Munchies" or unusual lack of appetite
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Unfamiliar smell of smoke or alcohol on clothes
  • Borrowing or stealing money
  • Highly unusual sleeping pattern

Warning Signs of Teenage Drinking

Alcohol addiction can be just as detrimental as drug addictions, so it is essential to look out for signs of teenage drinking. Many of the signs are the same between 

Once again, parents need to focus on changes in behavior, not necessarily the behaviors themselves, as some fluctuations are part-and-parcel of being a teenager. [1]

  • Change in their performance at school
  • New friend group
  • Poor hygiene
  • No longer enthusiastic about activities
  • New, argumentative behavior
  • Need for lots of money
  • Neglecting their responsibilities
  • Glazed or bloodshot eyes
  • Flushed skin
  • Different sleep pattern
  • Seem to be uncoordinated
  • Have trouble remembering things
  • Increased depression, anxiety, or mood swings

Binge Drinking and Suicide

Unfortunately, teenagers who drink are up to five times more likely to commit suicide or struggle with self-harm. This can be for a number of reasons.

First, when teenagers drink, their already underdeveloped decision-making skills will become even worse, which can make suicide and self-harm seem like a good option.

Additionally, when the blood alcohol content in their bodies begins to lower, the nervous system slows down, and their mood gets worse.

For a teenager who already suffers from depression or other mental illness, this comedown can be hard, and they may feel like suicide is a better option for them than living.

Finally, sometimes it may be a combination of the other two and out of fear. A young person may be afraid of the consequence they will face if their parent or adult in their life finds out, so they may view suicide as the preferred option.

If their logical thinking is not fully intact and they are already more prone to suicidal thinking, any reason to attempt may be enough.

Signs of Suicidal Ideation in Teens

Suicidal ideation is when a person starts contemplating committing suicide. Suicidal ideation does not guarantee that a teenager will attempt suicide, but it does mean it is time to get treatment before it moves beyond just thoughts. [2]

If a teenager is talking or writing about suicide (even in the form of a joke), this can be a huge warning sign. Even subtle statements like 'I will not be a problem for you for very long' can be huge warning signs. It is best to take everything they say seriously and talk about it, even if it ends up just being a joke or misunderstanding.

When teenagers are considering suicide, they tend to withdraw from those around them. This may be due to depression, a desire to protect those close to them from their decision, or because they feel like they are a burden on everyone around them. It is important to pay attention and have open communication if a teen starts to withdraw.

Increased use of alcohol and drugs can be a sign that they do not really care about their life anymore. Beyond that, doing other risky and self-destructive behavior can also be a sign that they do not care if they live or die.

If they start to give away lots of their belongings, even things they love or need, this can be a sign that they are preparing to commit suicide.

Finally, any signs and symptoms of mental health issues like depression are huge warning signs.

While depression does not guarantee a teenager is considering suicide, it does mean you should start seriously watching for any other possible warning signs of suicidal ideation.

What Kinds of Drugs Are Teens Using?

  • Alcohol: While most people do not consider alcohol a drug, it is a substance that causes physiological and psychological changes, so it does count as one. Most teenagers do not believe alcohol to be as dangerous as other substances, so it is the most common that teenagers try. Despite common belief, alcohol can be as dangerous as other substances, and it is highly addictive, especially to those genetically predisposed to addiction
  • Cannabis: Cannabis, or weed, is another common drug that teenagers try. They do not consider it as dangerous as other drugs, and it is relatively easy to gain access to it. Nevertheless, studies have shown that teens who use cannabis are more likely to be depressed and attempt suicide between 18 and 32 [3] . Cannabis can also hurt brain development. Just because you can not overdose on cannabis does not mean it is a safe drug for teenagers to use
  • Prescription Medicine: Whether they get it on the streets or become addicted through a prescription by their doctor, prescription pills are another common drug that teenagers use. Studies have shown that teens who use prescription drugs for non-medical reasons are more likely to attempt suicide. They can also put a child at risk for accidental overdose
  • Adderall: Adderall is known as the study drug and is common with kids that feel a lot of pressure to perform highly in school. Furthermore, they may not even see what they are doing as dangerous because they are doing it to improve their performance at school. Unfortunately, Adderall is highly addictive, and due to how often it is prescribed, it is easy to gain access too
  • Diet Pills: Today, eating disorders and unhealthy relationships with food are common in both girls and boys of all ages, but especially teenagers. A lot of people rely now on diet pills and steroids to get the body they feel they should have. This kind of obsession and the use of diet pills are clearly linked to depression and suicide. When they can not get the body they want, they may feel hopeless and give up on life. Beyond that, diet pills can kill when used in excess, and the person is not getting the nutrients they need

The Dark Side of Antidepressants

Antidepressants are one of the most common treatments for depression. They can be prescribed by a psychiatrist or a general care doctor, though usually, general physicians will only prescribe milder antidepressants. The main goal of antidepressants is to balance a hormone imbalance that results in depression.

Clinical depression is when people have the wrong amount of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin or dopamine. Antidepressants can be great and allow teens who suffer from depression and other mental illnesses the ability to feel 'normal' or 'happy' again; however, there is a dark side to antidepressants.

Antidepressants have a number of possible side effects that most doctors will go over before prescribing them. Still, one of the most severe side effects of all antidepressants is suicidal ideation and the worsening of depression.

Yes, the same medicine that can make depression better, can also cause a person to be more likely to commit suicide. For this reason, it is important that teenagers are aware of this risk, they are put on it in the proper way, and communication stays open.

When a teen is put on antidepressants, they should start out with a small dosage and slowly build it up over time. During this period, it is important that the teen talks with a parent trusted adult, therapist, or psychologist about what they are feeling.

If they start to have worsening depression or suicidal ideation, call the doctor and get them taken off of the medicine in the proper way.

Remember, just as it is important to get on medicine slowly, it can be important to get off of it carefully.

Any sudden change of hormones can put a person at significant risk for serious mental breakdowns and suicidal ideation.

Parent's Substance Abuse

It makes sense that when parents have problems with substance abuse, teens are significantly more likely to commit suicide. The correlation is clear, but the cause is still being debated.

One theory is that teenagers may be overwhelmed with all the pressures they have to deal with because their parents are not acting as healthy, capable parents.

Others theorize that the reason may be because teenagers whose parent's abuse drugs and alcohol are not exposed to healthy coping mechanisms and do not know how to deal with life and emotional/mental problems properly.

Furthermore, teens whose parents abuse drugs are more likely to abuse drugs, which makes them even more likely to commit suicide. The cycle of hereditary drug use is a huge problem.

The reason the two are correlated probably depends a lot on the individual situation of each teen. Still, no matter what the exact reason is, it is important to know this information and look for the signs.

Stopping Teen Addiction

Communication is the number one deterrent for teens away from drug and alcohol use. It is important that they understand the risks and the expectations the parents/adults in their life have and want for them.

It is key that lines of communication are open, so teenagers feel comfortable opening up about curiosities and mistakes.

Beyond communication, it is important that a parent or trusted adult has a significant presence in the teenager's life. While it is important teens have some space to explore and experiment, it is also important that parents are still regulating parts of the child's life.

If a kid is given too much freedom, too early, it can end up hurting the teen more than helping them. On the other hand, if the child feels too tied down and trapped, they may turn to drugs and alcohol as a form of rebellion.

Drug use is most common between the hours of three and six for teenagers. During this time, they are out of school, but parents are not usually home yet.

Because of this, a great way to keep a teen away from drugs and alcohol is by getting them involved with extracurricular activities such as sports and clubs.

What to Do With a Drunk Teen

When your child comes home drunk, it can be a scary and upsetting moment, but how you react is important.

First, stay calm. It is a normal reaction to feel upset, but staying calm keeps the lines of communication open and allows you to react in the ways needed to keep your child safe.

Once you feel calm enough to respond, find out how much your child has had to drink. Your number one priority should be safety, and knowing how much they have had to drink will help you know whether or not they need medical attention.

Furthermore, if they do need medical attention, that should be your immediate next steps.

If they do not need medical attention to begin to rehydrate them and get some food into them.

Until they are sober, you can not have a great conversation about why they were drinking and what the next steps will be because of their choice to do so.

Additionally, if at all possible, keep your child awake until they begin to sober up.

Remember, a teen may not be fully coherent when drunk so they may get violent. If this is the case, call the police. In order to keep you, your child, and your family safe, outside involvement may be necessary.

Preventing Suicide Attempts

To prevent teen suicide, lines of communication must be kept open, their feelings need to be taken seriously, and they should be provided with healthy outlets and coping mechanisms. Support their treatment and encourage a healthy lifestyle.

If a teen begins to open up, listen, do not react harshly, and support any movement they make towards recovery and treatment. On the other hand, if a child is in immediate danger, call 911 and get professionals involved. Even if they are angry, they will be alive.

References

[1]  https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/nationwide-trends

[2]  https://www.jsad.com/doi/abs/10.15288/jsad.2012.73.178

[3]  https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/mental-health-of-teenagers-who-use-cannabis/FA9A35EA2FB7D8C53D1F9B65D4850DDC


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