Youth Drug and Alcohol Addiction in U.S. is Often Linked to Stress, Mental Health Problems: CDC

Three-quarters of teens who abuse drugs are diagnosed with mental health problems, often using illegal or controlled substances to self-medicate

More than one-third of teens say they struggle with depression or anxiety and use drugs and alcohol to cope, according to the findings of a new study.

Researchers with the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a study on February 8 in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, indicting that most teens dealing with drug and alcohol addiction issues are self-medicating with illegal use of illicit substances or controlled drugs to help deal with the stress.

The data for the study came from the National Addictions Vigilance Intervention and Prevention Program, including self-assessments from nearly 16,000 teens ages 13 to 18 years old who were assessed for substance use disorder treatment from 2014 to 2022.

Teen Drug Addiction Often Linked to Stress

The most common reason teens reported they used or abused drugs was to try to feel calm, according to the CDC research. However, half of teens said they used drugs or alcohol to have fun and experiment.

According to the data, 44% of teens said they used substances to stop worrying or forget bad memories, 40% said it was to help with depression or anxiety, and 44% said it helped them sleep better.

Most teens, 84% overall, said they used marijuana, but 49% reported using alcohol, and 19% said they used prescription pain medications, prescription stimulants, or prescription sedatives or tranquilizers.

Overall, most teens reported using substances with friends, but more than half of those who specifically misused prescription opioid painkillers or other prescription drugs said they used them alone, increasing the likelihood of overdose deaths.

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Drug Abuse Epidemic

The findings of the study are another piece of research highlighting the worsening opioid epidemic in the U.S.

More than 70% of fatal drug overdoses involve narcotic painkillers, which are often first prescribed by doctors to adults. However, an increasing number of children are now being prescribed high-risk opioid prescriptions for conditions that don’t require heavy-duty painkillers, leading to even younger patients becoming addicted.

Researchers warn that more than 75% of teens who use drugs also suffer from mental health conditions and use drugs as an attempt to self-medicate. They indicate the findings of the new study highlight a need for parents and caregivers to help teens seek treatment for mental health issues, like depression and anxiety, and to learn healthy ways to reduce stress and improve mental health overall.

Alternative methods of stress relief should be highlighted to help teens learn to cope by turning to other options, such as meditation, talking to a friend or trusted adult, and seeking therapy, the researchers recommended.

The CDC researchers called for teen education programs that highlight the risks of using drugs alone, including the real risk of fatal drug overdoses, in schools and community programs.

“Reducing stress and promoting mental health among adolescents might lessen motivations for substance use,” the researchers concluded. “Educating adolescents on harm reduction practices, including the risks of using drugs alone and ensuring they are able to recognize and respond to overdose (e.g., administering naloxone), could prevent fatal overdoses.”

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