The teen years are difficult for many, although some young people are better equipped to handle stressful situations and therefore seem to have an easier time. For the most part, teens don’t have the emotional maturity to cope with some of the issues they face today, which can lead to substance abuse as they attempt to find a way through the situation.
Many parents fear that drug and alcohol abuse will lead to death by overdose, but there is also a risk for death by suicide when substances come into the picture, especially if there was already a mood or mental disorder present that is exacerbated by drugs or alcohol. With emotions already running high for young people, adding a substance into the mix can only makes things worse and, frighteningly, causes impulsive behavior that may make self-harm easier. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15-34.
For this reason, the risk for suicide is heightened when a teen has access to a weapon, which is why all families who own guns are strongly urged to keep them locked up or secured in a hidden place, preferably with a lock on the trigger and the bullets in a separate area.
Teens–especially those who suffer from an undiagnosed condition such as bipolar disorder–may begin to feel as if there is no way out when they experience a difficult life event. These feelings are dangerous, especially if there has been substance abuse present that could make the individual impulsive. Drugs and alcohol can lead to depression, isolation, a decline in physical health, and can affect sleeping habits, which could lead back around to substance abuse as the individual tries to get rest.
The reasons a teen may turn to drugs or alcohol are myriad. It can stem from an unhappy home life, a recent big life change such as divorce or a death in the family, chronic illness, or it could be something unseen by friends and family, such as a struggle with sexuality or cyber-bullying.
In order for parents to help, it’s always a good idea to know who their child is spending time with and what they do in their free time. This can be useful when it comes time for the teen to open up about any issues they may be having.
Some of the warning signs of addiction in teens include:
- Loss of interest in things that once brought joy
- Isolation from friends and family
- Too much or too little sleep
- Decline in physical health or appearance
- Slurred or impaired speech
- Detached emotions or being overly emotional
- Being secretive
- Lashing out
- Getting into legal trouble
If you have a loved one who is exhibiting these behaviors, it’s important to open up a conversation with them and let them know you’re listening. Don’t be judgmental or introduce guilt; chances are, they already feel guilty about something, or perhaps they are suffering from low self-esteem. Let them know you’re there for them and encourage them to seek help in the form of counseling, or to make an appointment with a doctor. It’s a good idea to talk one-on-one, as too many people in a room can make the individual feel like they are being ganged up on.
If you feel that self-harm is imminent, don’t leave the individual alone. Remove any items that could be used for harm from the area and call for help. Remember that you won’t have all the answers, and you may not be able to reach your loved one the way they need to be reached. There are professionals waiting to help when this is the case.
National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK
Contributor: Michelle Peterson has been in recovery for several years. She started RecoveryPride.org to help eliminate the stigma placed on those who struggle with addiction. The site emphasizes that the journey to sobriety should not be one of shame but of pride and offers stories, victories, and other information to give hope and help to those in recovery.