It may be confusing to parents to learn their teen, while not hanging out as much with their peers, has been engaging in substance use during the pandemic. But fresh data published in the Journal of Adolescent Health reveals this is indeed the case. While the study focuses on substance use among Canadian teens, this trend likely applies to U.S. teenagers as well.
Just as adults might turn to a substance to help them soften the effects of anxiety or depression, teens also seem to be using substances to self-medicate. The uncertainty, social isolation and loneliness, and fear of the virus has caused teens to increasingly struggle with mental health issues over the past year.
An article in the Wall Street Journal focused on the various ways that lockdowns have affected adolescents. In particular, it focused on how the lockdowns led to teens feeling increasingly isolated. The 2020 Fair Health report also revealed a spike in adolescent mental health claims that is associated with the effects of the pandemic as well. In addition, teens using substances to relieve boredom is also a consideration that can’t be ignored.
SUD in Teenagers
Parents may be surprised to learn that their teen is experimenting with substances. In fact, even with no risk factors present, parents may find that substance use has arrived at their front door anyway.
According to new statistics published by the National Institutes of Health that look at substance use among American teens in 2020, some interesting data can be noted. First, while alcohol use remains high, the downward trend in teen alcohol use for the past five years has leveled off during the pandemic. This indicates a resurgent interest in alcohol. Alcohol purchases among U.S. adults has increased dramatically during the pandemic, which may provide easier access for teens.
Another trend is a troubling increase in substance use among 8th. This age group showed increased non-medical use of prescription amphetamines, inhalants, and cough suppressants in 2020. This increase might be indicative of the younger cohort having undeveloped coping skills for processing the stress related to the pandemic, and therefore seeks substances to reduce the effects of negative emotions.
Signs of SUD in Teens
While parents might be tempted to overlook the signs of their teenager’s substance use, it is essential that they acknowledge any warning signs. The earlier a parent intervenes, the more positive the outcome. Some of the warning signs of teen substance use include:
- Smelling alcohol on the breath
- Smelling marijuana on clothing
- Finding substances hidden in the teen’s room or car
- Alcohol missing from parent’s cabinets or pantries
- Increased moodiness or mood swings
- Pinpoint pupils
- Hanging out with a different group of friends
- Finding paraphernalia in the teen’s room
- Money missing out of parent’s wallet
- Isolating behaviors
- Secretive behaviors
- Angry outbursts
- Unexpected packages addressed to the teen arriving in the mail
- Decline in academic performance, not completing assignments
- Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed, even when restrictions are lifted
If signs of teen substance use are detected, it may be a blessing in disguise. If this is a singular event, parents might be able to address it early by having an open and calm discussion with their child. Parents offering guidance, while also reminding the teen of the dangers of SUD, may suffice in this scenario.
However, if there are multiple signs of substance use, or even an SUD, parents should immediately seek the help of a mental health professional. After a thorough evaluation and assessment, the teen might be referred to a teen treatment program if warranted.
Check In with Your Teen Regularly
While we are still immersed in the COVID-19 era, parents should try to seek out a quiet time to check in with their teen once a week. All teens appreciate being loved and supported by their parents, so go ahead and see how they are faring. Be receptive and open as they share about their concerns and feelings, and resist being judgmental.
If your teen conveys signs or feelings that are concerning, do not hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional who can guide them through whatever they are experiencing. Most therapists are currently open for in-person counseling sessions, but telehealth platforms are an excellent option as well. The key is to be proactive if your teen is showing signs of strain, or of substance use, during this difficult chapter in their life.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, holistic addiction treatment, drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to heal each individual with respect and dignity, and reflects on our ongoing commitment to meet new challenges. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.