Stress and anxiety are two of the main reasons why teenagers turn to alcohol and drugs, according to new research from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study, involving 9,500 teens undergoing substance use disorder treatment, revealed that 73% abused substances to experience a sense of mellowness, calmness, or relaxation. Other prevalent reasons were to stop worrying about a problem or to forget bad memories (44%), to fight depression or anxiety (40%), and to have fun or experiment (50%).
Researchers say this information is important because substance use often begins during adolescence when the brain is not fully developed.
“Understanding the motivations reported by adolescents for using alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs and the persons with whom they use these substances could guide strategies to prevent or reduce substance use and its related consequences among adolescents,” the report reads.
Despite most teens stating a preference for using substances with friends, approximately half admitted to abusing drugs and alcohol alone. Researchers write that this is especially concerning because if a teen overdoses alone, no one would be around to potentially reverse the overdose through naloxone or call for help.
“Harm reduction education specifically tailored to adolescents has the potential to discourage using substances while alone and teach how to recognize and respond to an overdose in others, which could thereby prevent overdoses that occur when adolescents use drugs with friends from becoming fatal,” the report reads.
This research comes as the mental health of US children has garnered increased attention, with the American Academy of Pediatrics declaring child and adolescent mental health a national state of emergency. US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has also identified youth mental health as a key priority. A CDC report spanning from 2011 to 2021 indicates a rising prevalence of persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, particularly among girls (57%, up from 36% in 2011), boys (29%), and LGBTQ+ students (69%).