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EMOTIONAL ISSUES AND SUBSTANCE USE IN CHILDREN

EMOTIONAL ISSUES AND SUBSTANCE USE IN CHILDREN

When teenagers are struggling with emotional problems, they often turn to alcohol or drug use to help them manage painful or difficult feelings. In this they are not different from adults. But because adolescent brains are still developing, the results of teenage “self-medication” can be more immediately problematic.

In the short term, substance use can help alleviate unwanted mental health symptoms like hopelessness, anxiety, irritability and negative thoughts. But in the longer term it exacerbates them, and often ends in abuse or dependence. Substance use escalates from experimentation to a serious disorder much faster in adolescents than it does in adults, and that progression is more likely to happen in kids with mental health disorders than in other kids.

    • Adolescent alcohol or drug use accelerates very quickly when an untreated mental health disorder is present.
    • In the adolescent brain, pathways between regions are still developing. This is why teens learn new things quickly. This “plasticity” means the brain easily habituates to drugs and alcohol.
    • “Self-medicating” with recreational drugs and alcohol works temporarily to alleviate symptoms of anxiety or depression because they affect the same brain regions that the disorders do. But the result is that teens feel even worse when not using.
    • That’s one reason substance use is a risk factor for suicide in children with depression.
    • Another negative effect of substance use is that it undermines treatment. First, it diminishes a teenager’s engagement in therapy, and hence its effectiveness.
    • Second, if she is taking prescription medication, it may lower the effectiveness of that medication.
  • The drugs and the medications target the same areas of the brain. When meds have to compete with drugs or alcohol, they are less effective.

When you have both a substance abuse problem and a mental health issue such as depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety, it is called a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis. Dealing with substance abuse, alcoholism, or drug addiction is never easy, and it’s even more difficult when you’re also struggling with mental health problems.

In co-occurring disorders, both the mental health issue and the drug or alcohol abuse have their own unique symptoms that may get in the way of one’s ability to function at school, maintain a stable home life, and relate to others. 

When a mental health problem goes untreated, the substance abuse problem usually gets worse. And when alcohol or drug abuse increases, mental health problems usually increase too.

Substance abuse and mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety are closely linked, and while some substance abuse can cause prolonged psychotic reactions, one does not directly cause the other.

However:

Alcohol and drugs are often used to self-medicate the symptoms of mental health problems. People often abuse alcohol or drugs to ease the symptoms of an undiagnosed mental disorder, to cope with difficult emotions, or to temporarily change their mood. Unfortunately, abusing substances causes side effects and in the long run often worsens the symptoms they initially helped to relieve.

 Alcohol and drug abuse can increase the underlying risk for mental disorders. Mental disorders are caused by a complex interplay of genetics, the environment, and other outside factors. If one is at risk for a mental disorder, abusing alcohol or illegal or prescription drugs may push one over the edge.

 Alcohol and drug abuse can make symptoms of a mental health problem worse. Substance abuse may sharply increase symptoms of mental illness or even trigger new symptoms. Abuse of alcohol or drugs can also interact with medications such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety pills, and mood stabilisers, making them less effective at managing symptoms. 

Children who are anxious or depressed may feel more emotionally “even” if they drink or smoke marijuana. For socially anxious children, it can quiet the anxiety enough to allow them to function in peer groups. And since their friends do it, it’s not stigmatised the way taking medication is. It’s also common for children with mental health or learning writemyessay disorders to develop self-esteem problems, a sense that there’s something wrong with them or that they’re flawed. When these children reach adolescence, with its focus on fitting in, they really want to be normal and they don’t feel normal. And that means they’re more vulnerable to somebody passing around a drug, because they’re just trying to feel better.