The Connection Between Teen Behavioral Issues And Addiction

The relationship between teen mental health and substance abuse is clear. One study that analyzed 10,000 adolescents and teenagers with a mental health disorder found that two-thirds of them developed an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) or a Substance Use Disorder (SUD). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 14% of students reportedly misused prescription medication and 15% have used illicit drugs. The effects of exploring substances in high school can follow a teen into their adult life. If a teen doesn’t receive treatment for substance abuse or mental health conditions, they can struggle with teen and adult addiction.

Teens can discover harmful chemicals as a seemingly quick fix for stress, anxiety, and other behavioral issues. Teens facing behavioral issues can unsurprisingly become chemically dependent. The good news is that teens struggling with behavioral problems can seek the help of a therapist and tackle underlying issues needing attention. The bad news is that, if left untreated, teens can continue to seek out drugs and alcohol to help soothe difficult emotions or mental health problems.

Behavioral issues that are due to untreated mental health disorders can lead to teen drug use, which can develop into adult drug use. A 2016 survey noted that half of all youths with mental health disorders will end up battling addiction if left untreated. If teens do not seek treatment for difficult emotions like depression or anxiety, they risk worsening mental health that can be the motive for more behavioral problems, self-image issues, and poor coping skills.

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Teen Behavioral Issues And Addiction: Risk Factors

Teen substance abuse and addiction occurs due to factors like social and emotional difficulties experienced in personal or academic life. Risk factors for behavioral issues in teens can greatly impact a teen’s life in several ways. The CDC noted the below as risk factors associated with teen substance abuse:

  • Mental health problems
  • Poor parental monitoring
  • Disconnection from school
  • Sexual abuse
  • Family rejection
  • Parental enabling of drug use
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor self-image

Conditions like ADHD, PTSD, depression, and anxiety have increased in the teenage population and can contribute to behavioral challenges or addiction. Other factors that may increase a teen’s odds of developing an SUD include peer pressure, poor mental health, and untreated trauma. A teen struggling with one of these conditions and self-medicating with illicit substances may be more likely to take risks, participate in risky sexual behavior, or engage in violence.

Defining And Recognizing Teen Behavioral Issues

Teen behavioral problems can affect academic performance, friendships, and relationships. As teens’ brains are still maturing and developing, teens may experience anxiety and confusion over how to face challenges.

Parents and loved ones may express concern and experience frustration as their teen undergoes behavioral problems. Signs of teen behavioral issues include:

  • Poor academic performance
  • Defiance/Rebelliousness/Undermining behavior
  • Changes in appearance
  • Aggression
  • Changes in personality
  • Skipping school
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Hopelessness
  • Self-Harm/Cutting
  • Overall changes in mental health
  • Forming new friendships that are a bad influence
  • Isolation/Feeling like they don’t fit in
  • Insomnia or oversleeping
  • Fighting/Arguing

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Teen Behavioral Issues And Addiction: What Parents Can Do

Parents of teens can consider having an intervention if they are concerned about their teen’s substance abuse. An intervention can help the parent connect with the teen in a safe space with the help of an interventionist. Additionally, the teen can become more aware of problematic behaviors and the impact they have on their loved ones and their life. Parents and the interventionist can confront teens and give them the chance to make amends. They can become aware of their part in their child’s substance abuse and propose consequences and boundaries. Lastly, parents and the interventionist can introduce talks about treatment or therapy.

Teen Treatment And Rehab

Rehab allows teens the chance to tackle substance abuse early on before it becomes more problematic. Teens can access one-on-one counseling or group therapy. Some facilities offer family therapy, which further deepens bonds between relatives. Medications that can help with withdrawal symptoms and underlying mental health challenges are available. Fortunately, there are teen rehabs offering unique age-specific treatment. Gendered facilities designed for teens can encourage recovery in safe environments. Each facility will offer unique and specific treatments along with hands-on monitoring.

Featured Centers Offering Treatment For Teens

Get Help For Teen Addiction

Parents can feel relieved knowing there is help available for their teens. Rehabs can provide teens with care based on their age-specific needs. Contact a treatment provider to talk about treatment options.



Krystina Murray

Photo of Krystina Murray
  • Krystina Murray has received a B.A. in English at Georgia State University, has over 5 years of professional writing and editing experience, and over 15 years of overall writing experience. She enjoys traveling, fitness, crafting, and spreading awareness of addiction recovery to help people transform their lives.

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Reviewed by Certified Addiction Professional:

David Hampton

Photo of David Hampton
  • David embarked on his journey into sobriety in June of 2005, which led him to his current career path as a Certified Professional Addiction Recovery Coach in private practice in Greater Nashville. David is also a public speaker and the author of two books. David is cohost of the weekly Positive Sobriety Podcast, as well as being a frequent contributor to various articles and recovery based materials. As a member of the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC), David works closely with area treatment centers, recovery orientated nonprofit organizations, as well as being a keynote speaker for various recovery-focused events.

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