Adolescence – that interesting, exciting, and challenging period of life that ever one of us has to go through. Of course, some seem to stay perpetually stuck there emotionally, long after they’ve left their teen years behind. But for most, it’s a several-years-long transition from childhood to adulthood. The journey is often bumpy, even for the teens that seem to have things reasonably together.
Unfortunately, though, some teens really struggle during this phase of life – beyond what would (or should) be considered normal adolescent ups and downs. It can be hard, as a parent, to know when to take the attitude of “this, too, shall pass” versus “it’s time to seek professional help for our son / daughter”. Sometimes there’s a significant gray area, and multiple factors need to be considered. But more often than not, the signs are pretty clear – if you’re paying attention; that can be a challenge for parents with harried schedules and plates overflowing with obligations and responsibilities.
Since this phase of your child’s life will have a significant impact on his or her future, the sooner mental health issues are addressed, the better. Following is a list of indicators that your teen likely needs mental health treatment – or at the very least needs an evaluation by a psychologist or other mental health professional. If after reading through them, you’re still hesitant or unsure, at least take your teen in for an evaluation to determine whether or not treatment is necessary.
Remember, many parents tend to view their teens through at least somewhat rose-colored glasses, minimizing or turning a blind eye to serious issues. Sadly, doing so can have very serious repercussions down the road. Better to err on the side of caution than to ignore problems or assume things will work themselves out. If treatment is warranted, it’s absolutely in your teen’s best interest to take that step now rather than later (or even worse, never).
9 Warning Signs Your Teen Needs A Mental Health Evaluation
1 – Your teen is having problems functioning on a day to day basis. One of the primary criterion for practically every disorder listed in the DSM (the diagnostic manual used by mental health professionals) is that the symptoms are severe enough to interfere with day to day functioning or significantly impact at least one or more major area of life (e.g. relationships, school, or work). For example, it’s normal to occasionally feel sad or blue, but it’s not normal to self-mutilate when sad or angry, or become completely withdrawn for weeks at a time.
Signs that your teen isn’t functioning normally may include:
- A notable drop in grades
- Frequent absences or tardiness at school or work
- Decrease in personal hygiene
- Difficulties concentrating
- Bizarre behavior
- Low energy
- Difficulties making decisions
- Inability to cope with minor frustrations
Some psychiatric problems develop quickly, while others develop slowly over time. It’s always important to note any negative changes from your teen’s prior behavior. While it may be temporary, it can also be a sign of something serious.
2 – Your teen appears depressed, sad, withdrawn, or “blue” much of the time, or is often tearful or irritable. Each of these is a potential indicator of depression. As mentioned above, feeling sad or blue from time to time is perfectly normal – it’s part of being human. But it’s important to realize that, even with teens, an often depressed mood is not normal and needs to be addressed.
Many children and teens struggle with undiagnosed depression, suffering in silence for months or even years. Parents and other adults may mistakenly attribute an introverted, quiet demeanor to their personality rather than realizing depression is the real culprit. With proper treatment, a formerly depressed, withdrawn teen can become surprisingly outgoing.
It’s important to note that a significant loss (e.g. the death or loss of a friend, close relative, or beloved pet, or even a major move) can trigger profound feelings of sadness in your teen. However, while grieving is normal, healthy, and necessary, some teens don’t cope well with loss and get stuck in their grief. A major loss can trigger depression as well as exacerbate an existing depression.
While an episode of depression can be short-lived (e.g. a few weeks), it can also last for years – especially if left untreated. It can also lead to other serious problems for teens, increasing their risk for suicide, substance abuse and addiction, and serious academic problems. A drop in grades can make it difficult for them to get into college, and an ongoing or recurring battle with depression can negatively impact their performance if they do get in.
3 – Your teen has intense or rapid mood swings. Adolescent angst – it’s normal, right? Well, yes – to some degree. After all, teens are notorious for being moody, which is often attributed to hormonal changes and fluctuations. However, while occasional or mild moodiness may be normal, frequent intense or rapid shifts in moods shouldn’t be ignored.
Even in teens, a generally upbeat (or at least neutral) mood is a good indicator of healthy psychological functioning and emotional stability. Significant deviations from that may be a sign of psychiatric problems, including depression, bipolar disorder, or borderline personality disorder.
Keep in mind, if your teen is using alcohol or drugs, those substances can also cause erratic or intense mood fluctuations. Significant stress (e.g. parental separation or divorce, or a recent breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend) can also make your teen moodier than usual. If the mood swings are persistent, an evaluation is warranted. Even if stress is the primary cause (as opposed to a diagnosable disorder), a skilled therapist can help your teen learn healthy coping skills that will be beneficial for years to come. If substance abuse is the cause, early intervention is essential.
4 – Your teen is frequently using alcohol or drugs (which can include prescription drugs, OTC medications, and inhalants) to cope with stress or negative emotions, or fix a problem. It goes without saying that substance use in teens should never be taken lightly. Teens may think it’s expected and acceptable to drink with their friends and experiment with drugs, but the consequences can be devastating. Not only are many substances potentially addictive (leading to more serious long-term problems), they will also impair your teen’s judgment.
With regards to the need for mental health treatment, many teens start drinking or using regularly as a way to “self-medicate” psychiatric symptoms, such as anxiety or depression. They may also turn to illicit substances to enhance athletic performance, quickly drop unwanted pounds, or stay alert while studying for exams. A few beers can quiet racing thoughts, while a friend’s ADHD medication can temporarily boost a negative mood. Your teen may think they’re harmless enough (especially if they are “acceptable” substances, like alcohol or prescription drugs), but it’s an especially serious matter when they’re used to escape, cope, or fix a problem. This is because every time they provide even a little relief or benefit, the desire to use them again is significantly reinforced.
If your teen has a substance abuse problem and a mental health condition, he or she would be a good candidate for what’s known as “dual diagnosis” treatment. Treating only the substance abuse issue or only the mental health disorder will set your teen up for failure. Treating both disorders simultaneously is the best way to ensure a positive outcome and prevent a relapse down the road.
5 – Your teen is preoccupied with his or her weight or physical appearance, and / or has notable issues with eating and food in general. Body image issues and eating disorders often emerge during adolescence. Teens experience significant growth spurts and hormonal changes – both of which can cause problems such as acne and unwanted weight gain (as well as being too thin). They’re also becoming keenly aware of their sexuality. This can be particularly scary for teens with a history of sexual abuse (who may try to thwart the development of curves by starving themselves or binge eat in order to gain enough weight to be undesirable). Other teens feel a desperate need to make themselves more attractive typically involves being thin.
Combine society’s pressure to be thin and beautiful (or muscular and athletic), poor coping skills, and a fragile self-esteem, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for an eating disorder (such as anorexia or bulimia) or another, lesser-known disorder known as “body dysmorphic disorder” (BDD). Eating disorders and BDD not only often go hand in hand; they can also trigger or worsen other disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders.
Eating disorders can be especially serious because they often cause significant medical health issues and, for some, permanent physical damage. Anorexia, which is one of the most well-known eating disorders, is also one of the most deadly mental health conditions.
It’s important to note that serious body image issues and a severely dysfunctional relationship with food don’t just affect females. Adolescent males are also vulnerable to developing eating disorders as well as BDD.
6 – Your teen is often anxious or fearful, struggles with obsessions or compulsions, or worries excessively. Anxiety disorders are quite common in children and adolescents. Problems with anxiety can develop gradually or appear suddenly. An abrupt onset is often triggered by a traumatic incident, such as a natural disaster, a school shooting, or being the victim of a violent or sexual assault.
Problems with anxiety often include irrational fears, such as obsessing about having a serious illness or being contaminated by germs, or being terrified by something like spiders or dogs (even if it’s only a photo of a dog or the spider is securely encased in a glass terrarium). Nightmares, nervous habits (e.g. fidgeting, nail biting) and difficulties sleeping are not uncommon in anxious teens.
Occasional fear and worry are normal. However, when anxiety becomes constant, excessive, and / or irrational, it can be paralyzing and interfere with every aspect of your teen’s life.
7 – Your teen is hostile, violent, aggressive, and / or has difficulty managing anger. A teen who’s often angry, irritable, destructive (to self or others), violent, or hostile is a teen who needs help. When any of these behaviors or emotionsoccurs – especially frequently or regularly – it’s a red flag that needs to be taken very seriously.
Angry kids often become angry – and destructive – adults. They’re more vulnerable to accidents, substance disorders, suicide attempts, depression, and abuse or violence towards others. They’re also going to have serious problems at school, at work, and in their relationships.
These particular behaviors and emotions may be due to a variety of factors, including substance use (e.g. steroids, alcohol, or stimulants), trauma, mood disorders, psychosis (e.g. grandiose or paranoid delusions), and personality disorders. Even if your teen doesn’t meet the criteria for a specific disorder, therapy can help him or her learn to manage intense emotions and aggressive impulses.
8 – Your teen has experienced a recent trauma. Although not every teen needs therapy after being subjected to a traumatic event, it’s always wise to have him or her evaluated. Traumatic events are difficult enough for adults with good coping skills and a strong support system. Teens, however, often have yet to fully, or at least sufficiently, develop the skills required to sustain them when their world is turned completely upside down by trauma.
If your teen is having flashbacks, frequent nightmares, experiencing depression or anxiety, having trouble sleeping, or avoiding people, situations, or places that remind him or her of the trauma, treatment is likely necessary.
9 – Your teen is preoccupied with, is threatening, or has attempted suicide. Adolescence is one of the highest risk age groups when it comes to suicide. One of the reasons for this is that teens tend to be very impulsive. They also have a difficult time seeing the bigger picture and realizing that they can and will get through something that – at least in the moment – feels absolutely unbearable, such as the devastating, unexpected end of a romantic relationship.
Suicidal talk, threats, and attempts should always be taken very seriously. Countless parents who have lost a son or daughter to suicide would be quick to say they’d give anything to go back in time and heed the signs – signs that, in retrospect (at least in their minds), should have been so obvious.
Any preoccupation with suicide and death can be a potential clue that your teen is toying with the idea of ending his or her life. Threats are an even stronger indicator. Although some threats are idle, don’t make the mistake of assuming that your teen is just being dramatic. An angry or upset impulsive teen may make a serious attempt, resulting in permanent physical damage or death – even though he or she had no real intention of dying and just wanted to get your attention.
A suicide attempt – even if non-life-threatening – should always be taken very seriously. A naïve teen may think 4 or 5 Tylenol pills or a superficial cut to the wrist are enough to cause death. Don’t underestimate the seriousness of their actions. Additionally, one of the greatest predictors of future suicide attempts is a history of prior attempts.
Keep in mind that suicide isn’t always due to depression. Even when it is, the signs of depression may be subtle. Some teens may get involved in a suicide pact with friends for various reasons. Others may have been depressed, but once they made the decision to end their life they started feeling better. Ironically, a decision to commit suicide can be empowering and actually boost one’s mood, leaving others more baffled than ever when the person – who no longer seemed depressed – ends his or her life.
Any and all suicidal talk, threats, and behaviors warrant an evaluation by a mental health professional as soon as possible.
As a parent, you have a huge responsibility. Teens often lack the insight and maturity to realize when they need help. They also may mistakenly believe that what they’re experiencing is normal or that no one could possibly understand or help them. And, of course, some teens don’t want anyone prying into their personal life. That’s why it’s important to pay attention, keep the doors of communication open, and be ready to take action when needed.
Yes, your child may be mad at you for a while if you make him or her “see some stupid shrink”. But wouldn’t it be far better to endure a brief period of adolescent petulance than watch your precious child suffer for months or years with an undiagnosed, untreated mental health issue – especially one that could have been overcome or significantly alleviated and managed with proper (and early) treatment?
If You Think Your Teen Is Suffering Emotionally Or With A Mental Health Issue, Call Us Now, We Are Here To Help!
Doctors and public health officials know that people who use marijuana or other forms of cannabis may be affected by symptoms of depression more often than people who don’t use cannabis. People affected by depression may get involved in cannabis use because they believe the drug will make them feel better. However, they may also get involved because they knowingly or unknowingly believe that cannabis use will reinforce their dysfunctional state of mind. In a study published in March/April 2014 in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, a team of American researchers investigated whether positive or negative cannabis-related expectations best explain use of the drug in people with depression symptoms.
Depression And Treatment
Current evidence indicates that depression is not directly related to increased chances of involvement in cannabis use. Instead, for a number of reasons—including genetic predisposition and exposure to certain environmental factors—people who receive a depression diagnosis are statistically more likely to use marijuana or some other form of cannabis than people who don’t receive such a diagnosis. In some cases, individuals already impacted by the effects of depression may turn to marijuana in an attempt to ease the strain of their mental health symptoms. In other cases, habitual cannabis users may undergo personality changes that feature depression-like effects or actual diagnosable depression symptoms. People who self-medicate their depression symptoms with marijuana or other forms of cannabis sometimes experience a temporary improvement of those symptoms; however, in the long run, this type of drug use can easily worsen existing cases of depression and leave affected individuals with a significant decline in their mental/emotional well-being.
Drug Use Expectations
All people who drink or take drugs have expectations about the effects likely to stem from their substance use. Some of these expectations are “positive,” meaning that users believe they will feel better or otherwise gain a benefit from their intake of a given substance. Other expectations are “negative” and focus on the harms associated with the use of alcohol or drugs. As a rule, a person’s expectations influence his or her likelihood of getting involved in substance use. In real-world terms, this means that people who expect positive or beneficial results from drugs or alcohol have a higher chance of participating in substance use than people who expect negative or harmful results. In addition, positive or negative expectations of the impact of substance use can alter the ongoing experience of drug- or alcohol-related effects in active users.
Expectations In Depressed Individuals
In the study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, the U.S. research team used a test called the Marijuana Effect Expectancies Questionnaire (MEEQ) to assess the positive and negative expectations toward cannabis use in a group of 100 military veterans diagnosed with cannabis dependence (now known as one component of cannabis use disorder). These study participants also took another test, called the Inventory of Depression and Anxiety Symptoms (IDAS), designed in part to identify the presence of potentially diagnosable depression. In addition, all of the participants submitted information on the amount of cannabis they had consumed in the three-month period prior to the beginning of the study.
The researchers used a complex form of analysis to compare the results of each participant’s MEEQ and depression tests, and then used this comparison to help determine whether depressed cannabis users have positive or negative expectations toward intake of the drug. After completing their analysis, they concluded that cannabis use and depression are indirectly linked through positive expectations that depressed individuals hold regarding cannabis use. They did not find the same link between depression and negative expectations about cannabis use. The researchers found that the indirect link between depression and cannabis use is specifically related to a depression symptom called dysphoria, which revolves around an unusual state of unease, malaise or discomfort.
Researchers use the term indirect cause to describe contributing factors that help bring about a situation or condition, but don’t entirely account for that situation or condition like a direct cause. This means that, according to the conclusions made by the authors of the study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, positive expectations about the effects of cannabis help partially explain why depressed people use the drug, but don’t entirely explain why. Based on their findings, the authors believe that further examination of the impact of dysphoric depression symptoms may help broaden current understanding of why military veterans, in particular, begin using marijuana or other forms of cannabis.
Social anxiety is a term used to describe the presence of substantial feelings of unease, tension or fear in social settings that most individuals don’t view as particularly negative or harmful. People seriously affected by these feelings may qualify for a diagnosis of a mental health condition called social phobia or social anxiety disorder. In a study published in January 2014 in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, researchers from Louisiana State University examined the connection between social anxiety and the chances that a college undergraduate will use marijuana or other forms of cannabis. These researchers found that socially anxious people tend to use cannabis only when they believe that certain social norms support this behavior.
Identifying Social Anxiety Disorder
Doctors consider diagnosing social anxiety disorder in people whose levels of social anxiety interfere with their ability to maintain a reasonable sense of mental equilibrium or participate in various aspects of a typical daily routine. Symptoms commonly found in people affected by serious social anxiety include:
- fear of judgment from others
- unease in the presence of others
- difficulty communicating with others
- tendency to avoid voluntary social contact
- extreme self-consciousness or easy embarrassment
- difficulty establishing or maintaining friendships
Physical indicators of social anxiety are:
- excessive sweating
- blushing in social situations
Most people first develop tendencies toward social anxiousness in early childhood or during their teenage years. Equal numbers of men and women experience symptoms profound enough to merit a social anxiety disorder diagnosis.
What Are Social Norms?
A social norm is a spoken or unspoken rule that helps govern the ways people interact in interpersonal, group or community settings. Some norms only operate on a relatively small scale (e.g., within a family or a close peer group), while others may operate on several levels or only on a broader social scale. As a rule, certain norms only have an effect when an individual believes that important or powerful people in his or her social group also endorse those norms. Other norms don’t necessarily receive an endorsement as acceptable behavior; nevertheless, they have an impact because an individual sees respected or influential people following them in everyday life. Broadly speaking, any person’s social environment is formed from a combination of norms he or she should follow and norms he or she actually follows.
Social Anxiety, Norms And Cannabis Use
In the study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, the Louisiana State University researchers looked at the interactions between social anxiety, cannabis use and the desire to follow social norms. They conducted their work with the help of 230 undergraduates at the university who were known users of marijuana or some other form of cannabis (i.e., hashish or hashish oil). The researchers undertook their study for a couple of reasons. First, mental health professionals and addiction specialists know that socially anxious people may develop problems with marijuana use more often than the general population. In addition, despite this fact, researchers know very little about how social norms influence the drug-using behaviors of socially anxious people.
After analyzing the social anxiety levels, social norms regarding cannabis use and actual cannabis-related behaviors in the study participants, the researchers concluded that social norms do have a significant impact on the chances that a socially anxious person will or won’t use cannabis or develop significant cannabis-related problems. However, perhaps surprisingly, the main influencing norms come from college students’ parents, not their peers. When a socially anxious student believes that his or her parents have a favorable view of cannabis use, the odds for participation in cannabis use increase substantially. In addition, a socially anxious student who believes his or her parents follow pro-cannabis norms has a greater chance of developing relatively minor and relatively severe problems related to cannabis intake. Conversely, a college student affected by social anxiety tends not to get involved in cannabis use when his or her parents regularly express anti-cannabis points of view.
The authors of the study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs do not discount the potential of social norms established among peers to influence a socially anxious college student’s chances of using cannabis or experiencing cannabis-related harm. However, they note that parental influences appear to play a much more prominent role. The study’s authors believe that their work can help deepen understanding of the factors that can potentially contribute to the onset of diagnosable cannabis use disorder (cannabis abuse or addiction) in people affected by social anxiety.
If you have had a child diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) you probably have a lot of questions and just as many concerns. We hear a great deal in the media about over-medicating children. What does this mean for your child and his disorder? Will using medications to help him focus put him at risk for further drug abuse, and even addiction? The answers to these questions are not simple, but the more you learn about ADHD medications and treatment, the more comfortable you will be making decisions in the best interest of your child.
How Do Medications Help Children With ADHD?
ADHD is a disorder that is characterized by difficulty focusing and paying attention, impulsive and inappropriate behaviors and hyperactivity. These often manifest during school hours making academic success a major challenge for kids with ADHD. Medications used to treat the disorder are stimulants. This may seem counterintuitive, but they dramatically reduce hyperactive impulses, and allow children to focus and pay attention. For the best results, a combination of medication and behavioral therapy is often recommended by experts.
Are ADHD Drugs Addictive?
Stimulants used to treat ADHD, including Adderall and Ritalin, are addictive. Like other addictive drugs, they produce a pleasurable sensation related to certain brain chemicals. If these drugs are abused over time, the user can become addicted. When taken as directed, however, the risk of becoming addicted to these drugs is low.
If you monitor your child’s intake of his ADHD medications and follow your doctor’s instructions carefully, there is little chance that he will become addicted. It is natural to be concerned about the possibility. If it makes you more comfortable, keep the medication locked away and give the right dose to your child when he needs it. By controlling the administration, you can be certain he is not taking more than he is supposed to.
Does Use Of ADHD Drugs Lead To Further Drug Abuse?
There has been some debate about whether or not being medicated with stimulants for ADHD puts children at risk for later drug abuse. The best answer so far, thanks to researchers, is no. There seems to be little to no evidence that using ADHD medications as directed will lead to experimentation with other drugs, or addiction.
The greater danger results from the misuse of ADHD medications as a study drug. Teens and young adults, especially those in high school and college, abuse prescription stimulants as an aid to both studying and partying. One major reason for this abuse is that the medications have the effect of helping them stay awake. If a student needs to cram for an exam, she might take Adderall to stay up all night. Some students even take the medications to stay up late for the purpose of partying all night long. Both habits are very risky because they involve using addictive drugs without supervision from a doctor. This behavior can lead to addiction and other health problems.
Making Sure All Of Your Questions Are Answered When It Comes To ADHD Meds
The bottom line is that your child with ADHD could benefit greatly from supervised use of stimulant medications. If your doctor wants your child to try one, make sure all of your questions are answered and your concerns are addressed, but rest assured that using these drugs will not make your child an addict or a future drug abuser. Supervise your child, explain to him the dangers of abusing any kind of drug, and speak to your doctor to make sure that you and your child feel comfortable going forward with treatment.
Learn More About The ADHD And Drug Abuse Connection
Anxiety is a normal emotion that most of us have felt at one time or another. We may worry about a health problem or be concerned about meeting a work deadline. For some, though, anxiety becomes so intense that it interferes with daily life. The tension, strain, and stress can be serious enough that they try to find relief through a potentially dangerous practice: self-medication with alcohol or drugs.
What Is “Self-Medication”?
Self-medication involves using a substance to cope with negative feelings or physical discomfort without the guidance or oversight of a trained medical professional. Individuals struggling with anxiety may start abusing alcohol or drugs in order to calm themselves down and feel more relaxed. For example, they may get into the habit of drinking one or two beers before bed so they don’t lay awake at night feeling overwhelmed by life. They may smoke pot during a lunch break because they believe it will help them cope with a stressful workplace.
Specific Disorders And Substance Abuse
While any anxiety symptoms have the potential to contribute to substance abuse, a review of research suggests that those with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder (PD) are most likely to struggle with substance abuse. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – which also include significant anxiety although no longer categorized as anxiety disorders per se – have been closely linked to alcohol abuse .
Substances Used In Self-Medication
Someone experiencing anxiety can self-medicate with any substance. Some of the most commonly used substances include:
Alcohol is a popular substance of abuse among anxiety sufferers. Although it’s actually a depressant, drinking alcohol can initially numb feelings of stress, tension, nervousness, and fear. Alcohol also has a disinhibiting effect. This means that it helps people feel less inhibited or restrained; making them more likely to do things they would never do normally. This effect can make individuals feel freer and less afraid of the situation causing their anxiety.
For example, a disinhibited person may not be paralyzed by fear when he’s required to attend an office function or feel embarrassed or uncomfortable eating in public. Consuming alcohol makes many individuals feel friendlier and less anxious. In fact, studies show that some people with social anxiety are more motivated to drink specifically to reduce their social fears . However, despite its initial calming effects, alcohol can end up prolonging or worsening feelings of tension .
Marijuana is also quite popular with anxiety sufferers. This is primarily due to its ability to help them feel more “laid back” and relaxed. According to one survey, nearly 90% of marijuana users reported they’d used the drug in order to relax . When smoked, marijuana affects brain receptors linked to pleasure, producing a feeling of overall calmness.
Marijuana, like alcohol, may not be the effective anxiety reliever that many perceive it to be. For example, some users report having panic attacks after smoking it. Researchers believe this side effect is due to THC – the active ingredient in marijuana. THC has a negative impact on brain chemicals like serotonin and noradrenalin. Furthermore, some experts believe marijuana’s ability to impair thinking can contribute to increased anxiety in some users .
Statistics don’t reveal the exact number of people who abuse heroin to reduce anxiety. However, the dangerous drug’s power to produce a relaxed state of mind may make it the drug of choice for some anxiety sufferers. When heroin is injected, the brain converts it to morphine. This causes a euphoric rush of warmth followed by drowsiness. Heroin is also said to blunt emotions, which may seem to take the edge off of stress, tension, and feelings of anxiousness. The feeling of relaxation is temporary, though, and users need to get high again in order to find relief. This cycle can lead to a serious addiction to the drug.
It seems counterintuitive that anyone struggling with anxiety would choose to use a highly stimulating drug like cocaine. Experts theorize that the drug activates the brain in a way that allows someone struggling with social anxiety to break through inhibitions and cope with stressful situations . Like heroin, cocaine offers only fleeting anxiety relief, causing the user to continually seek out a high. Addiction, overdose, and death are all potential risks.
The Drug Use/Anxiety Paradox
When a person lives with anxiety, it can seem as though substances do reduce the troubling symptoms – and they may in the short term. However, substance abuse, even in the form of self-medication, leads to long-term problems that generate additional stress. Some users get so high that they end up being late for work. They may be unable to attend to the needs of their children or aging parents because their too drunk or have passed out. Substance abuse also harms their physical well-being. Each substance takes its own toll on health, from the potential liver damage of alcohol abuse to the dangers of overdose with cocaine or heroin use.
In addition, finding, buying, and using illicit drugs can contribute to anxiety. Users may worry that family members will notice the scent of marijuana on their clothing or feel uneasy about buying street drugs from an acquaintance. Drug-related activities inevitably add to the stress and strain they’re so desperately trying to alleviate.
Healthier Treatments For Anxiety
Anxiety symptoms affect every aspect of your life, so it’s essential to find help. Self-medication is never an effective or healthy treatment for anxiety. A combination of therapy and lifestyle changes is often enough to reduce symptoms of anxiety without the dangers of alcohol or drug abuse.
A skilled therapist can tailor treatment to address your specific type of anxiety. For example, if you struggle with social phobia, you may receive exposure therapy. Exposure therapy, as the name suggests, exposes you to anxiety-provoking situations in a gradual way that allows you to become more comfortable with them. The goal is to become desensitized to the anxiety as the exposure increases and intensifies.
People with anxiety also frequently benefit from learning relaxation techniques. Strategies like deep breathing exercises can reduce anxiety on the spot by lowering your body’s physical response to stress. Regular exercise is also an effective way to lessen anxiety because it naturally increases the brain’s levels of endorphins, which help promote a sense of wellbeing.
If you’re already self-medicating, be honest with your therapist and other treatment providers about your substance abuse. This will give them the opportunity to accurately assess you and determine the best treatment approach for both issues. You may be a good candidate for “dual diagnosis” treatment, which simultaneously addresses and treats your anxiety and your substance abuse problem. Leaving the substance abuse untreated will likely undermine your anxiety therapy, and vice versa.
Don’t risk your health by self-medicating with alcohol or drugs. Reach out for help so you can find a better way to cope with anxiety and live the life you deserve.
Read More About How Anxiety And Mood Disorders Are Linked To Opioid Abuse
Inattention and impulsivity are two mental/behavioral patterns that can substantially lower a person’s ability to function well in a range of social and interpersonal situations. While these patterns are commonly linked to the presence of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), they also occur in people unaffected by ADHD. In a study published in November 2013 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from the University of Chicago looked at both inattention and impulsivity as potential risk factors for increasing individuals’ sensitivity to the effects of the stimulant amphetamine. Typically, such an increase in drug sensitivity significantly heightens the risks for subsequent stimulant abuse and stimulant addiction.
Inattention is the general term for an inability to stay focused on specific events taking place in your current surroundings, stay focused on specific details of your environment or stay focused during personal or group interactions with others. In the context of ADHD, these focusing problems contribute substantially to social and interpersonal dysfunction, characterized by such things as poor academic performance in school or college, difficulties making appropriate social adjustments to changing circumstances, underdevelopment of critical language and math skills, a reduced ability to get or keep a job, and difficulty maintaining personal or intimate relationships. Outside of the context of an ADHD diagnosis, inattention can increase a person’s risks for involvement in accidents or susceptibility to fraud or other deceitful behavior.
Impulsivity is a term used to describe a tendency to act without significant forethought, or to act while ignoring previously gained insights regarding the negative potential outcomes of one’s actions. In the context of ADHD, the tendency to act impulsively contributes to the same general forms of social and interpersonal dysfunction that appear in people affected by ADHD-related inattention. Outside of the context of ADHD, impulsivity is linked to increased risks for a group of mental health conditions called personality disorders, as well as increased risks for mania, a highly agitated or excitable state commonly associated with the presence of bipolar disorder.
Inattention, Impulsivity Problems And Susceptibility To Stimulants
In the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, the University of Chicago researchers gave fairly low 20 mg, 10 mg and 5 mg doses of amphetamine to 165 adults with no history of substance abuse issues or other major health problems. After receiving each dose, each of these adults took part in tests designed to measure problems with inattention and problems with impulsivity. Each adult also filled out two questionnaires that helped the researchers gauge their sensitivity to the effects of amphetamine. For the sake of comparison, all 165 participants also went through the same testing procedures after taking a placebo drug dose that didn’t actually contain amphetamine or any other mind-altering substance.
The purpose of the project was to determine whether a high degree of impulsivity or inattention can increase a person’s susceptibility to the effects of amphetamine, and therefore make that person more susceptible to the eventual development of amphetamine abuse, amphetamine dependence or amphetamine addiction. The project’s designers undertook their efforts because, while previous studies had raised the possibility of a link between impulsivity, inattention and increased sensitivity to stimulant drugs, the authors of these studies had not examined this issue in detail.
At the end of the study, the researchers concluded that people affected by unusual degrees of inattention actually experience a decrease in their sensitivity to the mind-altering effects of amphetamine, not an increase. In addition, when amphetamine doses grow larger, people affected by inattention become less and less sensitive to the drug’s effects. The story is different for unusually impulsive people. When these individuals receive amphetamine, they exhibit a strong sensitivity to the drug’s effects. In addition, this sensitivity rises as the administered dose of amphetamine increases.
Results Of Strong Inattention, Impulsivity On Stimulant Abuse
The results of the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence indicate that the presence of unusually high levels of inattention may act as a hindrance to developing an abusive or addictive pattern of stimulant use. Conversely, the presence of unusually high levels of impulsivity may act as a factor in the development of these harmful patterns of stimulant intake. If this second point is true, then high impulsivity almost certainly adds to other known risks for developing stimulant abuse or addiction problems, rather than acting on its own as a primary factor.
Read More About Moms Abusing Stimulants
Healthcare treatment is often completely separated between those that are seeking mental health, substance abuse and medical health treatment. Communities have recently been integrating all of this patient care in one facility. For patients this means better care management as they are treated fully for all their needs with a network of health providers who can work together in helping the patient heal both mentally and physically, possibly including chronic pain management care.
Mental And Physical Health Connections
Research studies are more commonly finding links between mental and physical health.
Medical Ailments May Induce:
- Other mental illnesses
Mental Disorders May Conversely Affect A Person’s Ability To:
- Eat properly
- Take care of their physical health
A study by researchers at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS) looked at the effects of integrating medical health with mental health, and is the first to study the integration of substance abuse treatment with medical health.
Doctors Need To Treat Both The Body And Mind For Best Recovery And Long-Term Management
As doctors learn more about the mind-body connections, they see the need to treat both the patient’s body and mind in order for the best recovery and life-long management. The research team at SPHHS reported that many community health centers, for example, were providing mental health treatment. Leighton Ku, PhD, MPH, Professor of Health Policy and Director of the SPHHS Center for Health Policy Research, asserts that these centers are leading the way in redefining primary health care to include both mental and medical treatments. Mental Health Treatment Centers have also moved towards treating the individual as a whole, both mentally and physically.
The SPHHS study reported that the larger the size of the center the more likely it was to offer mental health services. Also, if there were more psychologists and psychiatrists in the area they were better able to offer behavioral health services.
Available Substance Abuse Care – Crucial For Overall Recovery
While more community health centers are offering mental health care, the study revealed that not as many centers are offering substance abuse care or crisis counseling. These centers are missing an integral part of the treatment process that is important for the overall recovery of their patients. Many larger professional treatment centers can offer the substance abuse care and crisis counseling that is needed by those struggling also with mental health conditions. This is an important part of long-term recovery.
Because of billing complications community health centers in some states are not as likely to offer substance abuse treatment or 24-hour crisis counseling. Drug and alcohol abuse most certainly affects the body, both mentally and physically. Treatment of one without the other can affect the results of treatment for the individual.
The lead author of the SPHHS study, Emily Jones, PhD, MPP, believes that if more people can be provided drug and alcohol abuse treatment – at any hour when they desperately need crisis counseling – the patient will have a better chance at recovery. Dr. Jones originally started this study and now works for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Complete Healing In Health Care
Complete healing happens when both body and mind are free of pain and suffering. Researchers like Jones find hope for integrating services as other research studies are finding multiple links between physical illnesses and mental illnesses. As doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists and substance abuse treatment professionals combine their forces in health care, more patients will find healing and the recovery process will be improved as it meets the needs of each patient on a more comprehensive level.
Read More About Mental Health And Drug Abuse Care
29 Nov 2013
According to psychiatric literature, as many as five percent of the American population deals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and half of those people may also have a problem with substance abuse. That’s because the two conditions frequently appear together, a relationship referred to as comorbidity. Because both stem from dysfunction in the reward system, it can be hard to untangle and treat the conditions simultaneously.
Connection Factors Between ADHD And Drug Addiction
Past studies of twins have shown a high comorbidity between ADHD and drug addiction. These studies point to shared genes which make a person more susceptible to both conditions. When a person has a genetic predisposition combined with environmental risk factors, the likelihood of the two conditions arising increases. To compound the problem, other studies reveal that people with ADHD are at greater risk for earlier onset of drug abuse, more serious abuse and a harder time remaining abstinent.
Diagnosing Adult ADHD
Both ADHD and substance abuse are diagnosed by using established tools which are essentially checklists of symptoms. In order to diagnose ADHD, a person must demonstrate a minimum of six symptoms of either hyperactivity or distractibility, but not necessarily symptoms in both categories. Doctors may be hesitant to diagnose adult ADHD, and even more so when a patient appears to be dealing with substance abuse as well, just because it requires a bit of detective work and a delicate balancing act in terms of treatment.
One way doctors can diagnose adult ADHD is by asking open-ended questions such as, “Why do you suspect that you may have ADHD?” this may result in symptoms being displayed without prodding. If this doesn’t happen right away, doctors can ask clarifying questions such as, “What does your work life look like?” or “Describe several of your closest relationships.” In terms of substance abuse, it is best to be forthright with questions such as, “Do you use any substances? “followed by, “Describe your substance use.”
A long-term picture will be the most accurate, so asking about grade school and high school experiences can be helpful. However, in some cases a parent may have performed the role of compensating presence – monitoring homework, ensuring the student was on time, helping them keep things organized, etc. – so with adult patients asking about college life or work life may actually provide the clearest idea of what symptoms are present. Whenever possible, having the added perspective of another person such as a spouse, parent or sibling is useful.
Symptoms Doctors Will Explore When Diagnosing ADHD
- Trouble focusing on a single task. The person has difficulty reading, leaves tasks unfinished, is not a good listener, engages in a lot of daydreaming and frequently loses things.
- Trouble staying focused. The person finds it hard to plan and organize. Time management is a problem issue. The person has difficult in recognizing potential consequences of actions.
- Trouble with motor control. The person exhibits restless, non-goal oriented movement and they can’t sit still for extended periods of time. It is important to note that the person who doodles and draws or who packs their daily schedule may also be showing signs of difficulty.
- Trouble with self-control. The person is impulsive, talking and acting without thinking. They frequently interrupt others and have little patience.
What These Brain-Function Symptoms Reveal
Each of these symptoms reveals sluggishness within the brain’s mesolimbic dopamine system, or reward pathway. Healthy people feel a certain amount of elation when they embrace another, hear beautiful music or engage in fun physical activity, and the reward circuitry in the brain is pre-set to respond positively to these things. When a person has an ill-functioning reward system, they may engage in riskier behaviors in order to stimulate or activate the reward response.
Treatment For ADHD And Substance Abuse
Drug use exacerbates this problem. Therefore, the best treatment will result from a multi-pronged approach. Persons with comorbid ADHD and substance abuse will probably require individual counseling, support group therapy, carefully monitored medication therapy and specific lifestyle changes.
Read More About Addiction And Mental Disorders