Adolescents and substance abuse: coping with anxiety and depression.

There are several causes for the adolescent substance abuse. One of those subtle causes that you can act is by leading in understanding cause and treatment of anxiety and  depression.

Sleep deprivation is probably the most hidden cause of depression and anxiety among the youth.

This is one of the areas that you can identify and help your teen with as they navigate high school.

Studies on depression, anxiety and adolescent substance abuse

Studies on adolescents have shown that treating depression in adolescents can cut the risk of the teen’s substance abuse.

According to a 5 year study, the youth that received effective short-term treatment for depression were considerably less likely to start using or abuse substances.

The study also found that the adolescents who had alcohol and substance use disorders before the treatment for depression, did not show any reduction in use.

On a larger study with nearly 60,000 youth aged 13 to 24 over seven and a half years, found that the youth that had mental health disorders and were receiving treatment for pain had more than double likelihood of receiving long term opioid treatment.

The opioids were prescribed for headaches, back or neck pain or other common chronic pain complaints.

Anxiety and depression have been associated with increased symptoms of pain.

Causes for depression and anxiety for youth:

Most high school age school students are getting very little sleep. This is partly due to staying up, texting or talking on phone, updating pictures and watching videos. Most of the parents are unaware as this happens long after they wished them a good night.

According to previous studies, teenagers require 8 to 9 hours of sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation only 15% of teen’s gets 8.5 hours of sleep on school nights.

In another study of more than 1600 teen’s in 2006, the Foundation found that many of the youth showed signs of depression. Over half of the participants reported that they were stressed and had anxiety.

Help with the lack of sleep:healing anxiety and depression

Too many of the youth sit all day, in class on phone and on video games and electronics.

Enroll and encourage the youth to be part of a team or join fun and creative regular habit of outside play.

Identify one of the symptoms of being depressed.

Watch out for when they toss and turn and can’t sleep.

One of the symptoms of depression is the desire to sleep with an inability to fall asleep.

Have a conversation with the teen and ask if they are feeling depressed and be prepared to help or seek help.

Track how much sugar they are consuming.

Sugar has been found to be a cause for health problems and weight gain and increased inability to sleep for hours.

If they have been taking too much sugar, encourage them to cold turkey drop sugar for at least a week and see if they will be able to sleep.

Watch out for too much caffeine or soda.

The youth don’t need caffeine. Most of the time, they will take caffeine to self medicate to stay awake.

Should they take caffeine, it should be before noon. You can encourage them to take a week off caffeine and see if that will help

Gluten intolerance: Celiac disease is a gluten intake problem which can cause sleep deprivation as a symptom. This can be a hidden problem, should you think that this is the case, consult with a physician.


Depression and anxiety can creep in to anyone. For the youth navigating adolescence and the pressures of being a teenage, addressing these two will go a long way in cut the risk of their substance abuse to self medicate or cope.

The goal for every parent is to delay the need for use or abuse as much as possible and eliminating one of the major causes of substance abuse will go along way.

Please feel free to leave a comment below.

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  1. An interesting article – thank you for posting it at a time when I am wondering if there are some adjustments to be made in my teens’ daily habits. The power of being connected to social media 24/7 can be very detrimental to teens and definitely can lead to sleep deprivation, anxiety and depression. As a parent, I think its time to regain some control over how much screen time my teens have – do you have any tips on this?

    • Hi Coreena, for my son, we are trying to have conversations about the phone use and have a family rule to turn all electronics at 8pm, an hour before bed. So far its working. we also have him leave the phone charging in the sitting room and not in the bedroom.

  2. Thank you for such an informative post! In a teenager that I know, pretty much all of these common factors apply. It’s a complicated situation, so of course I won’t share much, but hopefully if some of these positive changes can be made, some problems might be resolved.

    Thanks once again,


  3. Thank you for sharing with us this article. I think it is essential to watch out what our teens do. I do not let my children to play or to watch all day phone or computer. They know two hours, and that’s enough. Also, they can not eat all day sugarily just if they eat their lunch and after can eat some chocolate or something sweet. At 9 pm they have to go to sleep. If we get used to them in a younger time, you don’t have so much trouble with them later. Thank you again for your helpful article.

  4. Interesting read. I feel like I would be an outlier in a study like this. My anxiety was purely of a social nature and a fear of public speaking, I was a bit too shy for high school. While my sleeping habits wren’t great I never felt like my anxiety got better on a better night’s sleep. However, I do think that the access to social media is a major driver for all young boys and girls to have increased lack of sleep and anxiety for obvious reasons. On top of opioids I would say a greater access to marijuana is also causing more depression, anxiety, and pain.

    • I agree.The only challenge is that Marijuana is now so accessible. The adolescent and the parents need to be well educated on the effects of all this on the youth.

  5. I’ve been suffering from social anxiety and some form of low level walking depression or dysthymia since I was a teenager so this really rang a bell. To this day (I’m in my thirties) I some times self medicate with alcohol. Couple beers makes me forget about my depression. I’m on meds and been to therapy as well, so this isn’t really a problem but something I have come to accept as a part of my personality. Just wanted to share this because I found out as a teenager that alcohol helped the symptoms and I guess things could have gone much worse if I was more prone to addiction. To me it wasn’t the cause of depression, but a medicine, but I did go overboard many times. I only got help for mental health issues as an adult and sometimes I wounder if my life would have been much simpler and happier had my parents noticed my symptoms and got some help. All this said, I did grow up a fairly level headed and responsible adult and I guess we all have our problems.

    • Thank you chuck for sharing your experience. This is so hard to understand when you are watching from outside. it would help if the parents are aware on what to look for. I’m also happy that you say that you were not prone to addiction. This is where most adolescent really get beat and life takes a very different turn.

  6. HI
    Thanks for your great article about adolescents and substance abuse. It is certainly something to be concerned about. Parents these days have a great many things to watch out for. I think the increased access to technology is probably having a huge effect on the overall health of our kids. Generally speaking, they spend too much time on the computer/phone and I believe it leads to less time truly socializing in person with their peers. Knowing how to communicate is probably becoming a problem. When they need to reach out for help they may be lacking the skill to do so.
    Sleep deprivation is another major issue too! I read an article once stating that the bio rhythms of teenagers are different than adults. I believe the article was saying that early school start times are not the best idea for kids…they would do better with later start times or something. Have you heard of this?
    Your article really lays out some issues that our youth are having. There are so many pressures on our young people. It’s no wonder they are stressed out, depressed and turning to drugs and alcohol to find some comfort. But we know that these substances can be dangerous if abused.
    Thanks for writing this article. It is good information.

    • Hi Angela, yes i did see the reports from on the need for the adolescent to start later than 8.30 and end later. The argument is that their bio clocks are set to wake up around 8 and rest at 11. This obviously add to their deprived sleep if the school start earlier. This obviously put alot of stress to the parents too as this will affect the work schedule.

  7. Hi Zikora, You have obviously done a lot of research on the subject of adolescents and substance abuse. Sadly it is a major problem in many schools and homes. Many people don’t know how to deal with it and try ignoring the problem until it becomes worse or unbearable for the young person. Loneliness can cause depression in the young and although they
    go out a lot they can still be lonely.

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