Being a teenager is hard. Depression is also hard. But to simultaneously navigate depression and the challenges of being a teen can spiral from hard to overwhelming, and many teenagers turn to drug use to cope with painful feelings if their depression isn’t effectively recognized and treated.

As a parent, your love, guidance, and awareness can help your child get the help needed to overcome depression and prevent future addictions.

Why Do Teens Start Using Drugs?

We often think of teen drug use as a rebellious phase or experimenting, but according to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, many abuse drugs to deal with their emotions. We also tend to think of street drugs, but a serious drug problem among teens is prescription drug abuse.

Teenagers presume that prescription drugs are safer than other drugs because a doctor prescribes them. They typically access them in their own homes or friends’ homes and don’t understand how quickly they can become addicted to any drug.

Why Teen Brains Are Prone to Addiction

Teens are highly vulnerable to drug addiction. Adolescent addiction can develop alarmingly fast compared to adults; within a few months due to the plasticity of their brains. In fact, the brain will never be as plastic again as it is in adolescence.

Because teens have highly plastic brains, when a teen uses drugs, their brain responds by creating new connections. This brain rewiring reduces the chances of the teen’s ability to be motivated to think of healthier choices the next time they have options. Drug use neurologically reinforces more drug use, and this domino effect ends in addiction.

6 out of 10 teens who are struggling with addictions also have a diagnosis of depression, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Unfortunately, teen depression often manifests differently than adult depression and can go unnoticed.

Signs of Teen Depression

In addition to missing signs, it’s common to dismiss teen depression as a developmental phase that will pass. 31% of high school students in the U.S. report feeling hopeless or sad for longer than two consecutive weeks to the point they stopped participating in their regular activities. 13% of 12-17-year-olds report having a major depressive episode.

Teens often won’t talk about what they’re feeling, but there are outward signs you can observe. Signs of teen depression can include:

  • Irritability or other mood changes
  • Withdrawal from things they normally like to do
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Sleep pattern changes
  • Refusing to go to school
  • Physical complaints without an apparent illness
  • Poor academic performance

Treatment for Depression Prevents Teen Addiction

Teens and depression can lead to a dangerous triad, including addiction. Nearly half of children with mental health disorders will go on to abuse drugs if they don’t receive effective treatment. However, a five-year research study at Duke University revealed that after receiving successful psychiatric treatment, 90% of depressed teens did not go on to abuse drugs.

The message is clear – effective depression treatment prevents teen addiction. Contact LifeStance Health today. We can help you understand the issues your child is facing, including depression.