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Substance Abuse & Self Harm In Teens


The teenage years can be both painful and difficult. Problems and challenges seem to come at teens from every direction. Naturally, teens look for ways to soothe negative feelings or find ways to distract themselves. Such coping mechanisms may be dangerous, especially when temporary relief comes in the form of teen substance abuse or self-harm. With so many challenges and pressures, teens may engage in one or more of these behaviors to manage their feelings or to avoid reality.

Unfortunately, despite offering temporary relief. Substance abuse and self-harm can make teens feel worse in the long run, not better. When self-harm in teens leads to substance abuse, trouble surely follows. Finding healthy and emotional regulation activities for teens is critical.

Teenage Self-Harm — Facts & Statistics

Self-harm in teenagers is a far more common phenomenon than some parents may think. Recent data suggests that almost one in five teens engages in self-harm. While self-harm is by no means unique to young people, it is estimated that nearly 90% of individuals who engage in self-harm first began in adolescence. As more research is conducted about self-harm, current teenage self-injury statistics will hopefully improve.

Signs of Teenage Addiction to Self-Harm

What are typical signs of self-harm in teenagers? Some signs of self-harm can be difficult to detect, as teens often try to hide their injuries to avoid exposure. Some notable signs may include:

  • Declining performance in school, extracurricular activities or work
  • Wearing clothing that might hide any evidence of self-harm
  • Avoiding clothing items that leave arms, legs or the midriff bare
  • Reluctance to disrobe in normally appropriate situations such as in the locker room or changing rooms
  • Finding knives or lighters in unexpected places
  • Increasing turmoil in personal relationships whether they be romantic, friendly or familial
  • An increase in the overall number of observed cuts and injuries
  • Tissue damage that does not heal

Although self-harm can be as serious as deliberately poisoning oneself or breaking bones, it can be as simple as refusing to let a wound heal properly. It is important to note that not every teen will exhibit all signs of self-harm.

Teenage Self-Harm & Future Substance Abuse

The relationship between self-harm and substance use is a two-way street. If a teen engages in self-harming behavior, then there is potential for future drug use. Both self-harm and substance abuse are ineffective and detrimental coping strategies for dealing with physical or emotional pain. Employing one phenomenon may lead to using the other. The underlying issues caused by pain cannot be addressed by either self-harm or substance abuse.

Interestingly, teens are not the only population who commonly engage in self-harming behavior. In a study conducted in 2017, 14% of opioid hospitalizations among individuals aged 65 and older were caused by intentional self-poisonings. Thus, unless directly and promptly addressed at a young age when self-harming behaviors typically begin, such behavior can follow individuals well into old age.

Risks of Self-Harm with Substance Abuse

Self-harm and substance abuse are a dangerous combination. Substance use alters a teen’s perception and judgement in multiple ways. Using drugs interferes with a teenager’s impulse control and can have long-term implications on brain development. Combined with harming oneself, substance abuse can lead to a situation even more dangerous than the one posed by either of these perilous coping mechanisms alone.

Treating Co-Occurring Self-Harm & Substance Addiction

Teenagers that struggle with co-occurring self-harm and substance abuse must develop effective solutions to manage stress, pain and the difficulties of teenage life. Parents and teens can explore different treatment options including dual diagnosis treatment that addresses both mental health conditions. Additionally, teens may opt for teen addiction treatment, which usually involves comprehensive care at an inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation facility. During treatment, teens will learn effective coping strategies for both substance abuse and self-harm in order to create new and positive outcomes for their life.

If your teen is struggling with drug addiction and self-harming behaviors, contact the Next Generation Village. A representative can discuss recovery programs offered and can provide tips about how to best support your teen during this difficult time.


Baumgaertner, Emily. “How Many Teenage Girls Deliberately Harm Themselves? Nearly 1 in 4, Survey Finds.” The New York Times, July 2, 2018. Accessed September 13, 2019.

Gluck, Samantha. “Self Injury, Self Harm Statistics and Facts.” HealthyPlace, Updated June 21, 2019. Accessed September 13, 2019.

Peterson, John; Freedenthal, Stacey; Sheldon, Cristopher; Andersen, Randy. “Nonsuicidal Self injury in Adolescents.” Psychiatry (Edgmont), November 2008. Accessed September 13, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.


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