Under Pressure: Common Mental Health Drivers Behind Teen Substance Use

Under Pressure: Common Mental Health Drivers Behind Teen Substance Use

In recent years, the drivers of teen substance use have shifted, influenced heavily by underlying social pressures and mental health concerns. Today’s adolescents are navigating complex social, educational, and personal landscapes that significantly impact their behavioral choices, including the consumption of alcohol and drugs. Understanding these drivers offers key insights into why teens are so susceptible to drug use, which is vital to developing more effective substance use prevention and intervention strategies.

Why Do Teens Use Drugs?

For young people in the process of navigating one of the most difficult stages in the human life cycle, there are all too many challenges that, from their point of view, give them a reason for using drugs. A recent CDC study highlights that some of the main, current drivers behind teen drug and alcohol use include stress or worry, a desire to have fun, and the need to cope with symptoms of mental health disorders.

  1. Coping With General Stress

The pressure to excel at academics; extracurricular activities; in-person and online social interactions; romantic relationships; and life decisions — added to the need to pull their weight at home and participate in family life — can be overwhelming for even the healthiest and most privileged teens. On top of that, many haven’t yet learned how to cope with stress in effective, healthy ways. American culture also places undue importance on who we are or were in high school, further ramping up the stakes for teens in unproductive and even detrimental ways. 

Add in any other major life challenges, such as family financial struggles, divorce, the death of a family member or friend, or mental health disorders, and surviving adolescence can feel all but impossible. 

Drugs and alcohol provide fast — if temporary, unhealthy, and even dangerous — relief from worry and the sleep problems that come with it, making them all-too-convenient outlets for adolescent stress.

  1. Having Fun

Even having fun can be a considerable source of pressure for teens. For one thing, they’re constantly being told by nostalgic adults that they’re lucky to be young and (supposedly) carefree. In addition, teens in various media are frequently portrayed enjoying riotous parties, wild spring break vacations, and the like. These representations often glamorize not just good times and excess but the casual use of alcohol and drugs without consequences. 

It’s little wonder, then, that some teens feel compelled to live out these pop culture expectations (and seeming rewards for their struggles) that they’ve internalized over time.  

For many teens, alcohol and drugs are also seen as enhancers of social experiences. Parties, concerts, and casual gatherings often involve substances to facilitate what they perceive as more enjoyable interactions. The allure of enhancing the fun factor — particularly from a “work hard, play hard” perspective — is a prominent reason teens turn to substances, viewing them as integral to social bonding and recreation.

  1. Coping With Mental Health Disorders

Substance use among adolescents is alarmingly linked to untreated or undiagnosed mental health disorders. Teens often use alcohol and drugs as a form of self-medication to alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. This form of self-medication points to a broader issue of accessible mental health care and awareness among youth.

Protect Teens From Substance Abuse With ReGroup Foundation

ReGroup Foundation is a nonprofit that helps preteens and teens as well as their families anonymously share and benefit from mental health success stories. Too often, the best resources and practices in teen mental health care remain under the radar. 

We want all families to benefit from the triumphs of those who have “been there, done that” where substance use and other issues are concerned. We make this possible by collecting family reviews of local mental health caregivers and facilities as well as personal strategies to help teens recover from wellness challenges.

In only 15 minutes, you can begin making a world of difference in the lives of other teens and their families — just by anonymously sharing your successes. Register today and start sharing your reviews and mental health insights!

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