Teens with depression may seem to be sad, withdrawn and uncommunicative but they are actually trying unsuccessfully to deal with anger and resentment in unhealthy ways. Depressed adolescents are typically easily irritated, snappish and frustrated but do not understand why they act this way because they are unwilling to acknowledge the disturbing emotions roiling inside of them.
By the time we are 12, we have been taught by our parents and society to hold negative emotions in check and reveal only positive emotions. We learn that angry outbursts and expressing displeasure over something could entail strong reprisal from others, embarrassment and feeling ashamed. Depression in teens is usually the result of powerfully negative emotions building over time that cannot be verbalized or manifested in ways that relieve and resolve these feelings.
Substance abuse and addiction is commonly diagnosed in teens with a depressive disorder. Marijuana, alcohol and opioids like pain pills are central nervous system depressant frequently abused by teenagers searching for something that can give them a temporary respite from the painful emotions and self-critical thoughts constantly diminishing their self-esteem and sense of self-worth. Unfortunately, these addictive substances tend to worsen symptoms of depression, which compels teens caught in the dangerous cycle of drug abuse and depression to continue abusing drugs.
Recognizing Signs of Depression in Teens
For psychologists to diagnose adolescents with clinical depression, your teen should present two or more of the following symptoms for at least three months:
- Acting or expressing feelings of sadness, hopelessness and worthlessness
- Overeating or not eating enough (anorexia/bulemia)
- Hypochondrias (complaining of illnesses with no clinical evidence)
- Sleeping more than 12 hours a day/spending all day in bed
- Isolating themselves from friends and family/Internet addiction
- Suffering unexplained spells of anxiety, agitation, crying or violent behavior
- Refusing to go to school/drop in grades
- Involvement with law enforcement/not caring about consequences
- Lack of interest in personal hygiene
- Self-harming behaviors
- Suicide ideation/attempting suicide
Signs of possible drug use in teens:
- Being physically or verbally abusive when confronted about drug use
- Refusing to abide by curfew and house rules
- Hanging out with "new" friends you suspect are using or dealing drugs
- Lying about what they are doing and where they are going
- Getting caught stealing valuable items from the home (money, jewelry, laptops and even medication prescribed to you)
- Sleeping in or disrupting classes at school/getting suspended from school
- Smelling of marijuana/alcohol
- Overreacting to disruptions regarding their lifestyle
- Escaping straight to their room upon returning home (may indicate your teen is hiding drugs or drug paraphernalia)
- Consistently having bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, clumsy movements and inability to hold a rational conversation
If depression in teens is not addressed by professional adolescent counselors and substance abuse exacerbates depression, teens could develop signs of psychotic depression. Intensification of depression can cause a partial or complete break with reality. Psychotic symptoms similar to those seen in people with schizoaffective disorders may occur, such as delusional thinking and audio/visual hallucinations.
Teens suffering from psychotic depression and substance abuse may hear voices in their head telling them they are bad, worthless and do not deserve to live. They may barricade themselves in their room because they think police are outside waiting to arrest them, forcing parents to take extreme actions they do not want to take.
The Role of Neurotransmitters in Teen Depression and Substance Abuse
Neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine are just three of the brain's many chemicals essential for transmitting messages throughout the central nervous systems. Neurons would not be able to communicate with each other without these chemicals. When abnormal levels of these neurotransmitters exist in your teen's brain due to depression and drug abuse, they will need professional, caring help provided by experienced counselors at our Teen Treatment Center.
Another biological reason teenage depression requires psychiatric attention and medication involves low levels of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter regulating our urge to seek out pleasant and rewarding experiences and emotions. Lack of dopamine may demonstrate why depressed teens feel no pleasure in activities that once gave them pleasure. It also supports the reason why teens using drugs and alcohol to cope with severe depression suffer worsening of depression symptoms. Both opioids and stimulants flood the brain with temporary surges of dopamine and other neurotransmitters. Once a drug's effect on the brain diminishes, this surge rapidly recedes, leaving the teen feeling even more depressed as tolerance for drugs and increased levels of dopamine builds.
Treatment for Teen Depression and Substance Abuse
Serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors are typically prescribed to depressed teens abusing drugs and alcohol. SSRIs help restore chemical balance in the brain, reduce cravings for drugs and support the outcome of cognitive behavioral therapy and anger management counseling provided by our psychologists at the Teen Treatment Center.
Mental health issues and substance abuse disorder in teens requires the guidance of multiple addiction and medical professionals to help teens regain their self-esteem, a strong self-identity and maximize their ability to manage powerfully disturbing emotions. Our Teen Treatment Center provides compassionate, evidence-based treatment programs for teens suffering from substance abuse and depression. If you are the parent of a troubled teenager, please contact our center today for immediate guidance about getting help for you and your teen.