There is an indisputable link between mental health problems and alcohol use. Up to 50% of those with a mental illness may develop a substance addiction, and 20% of those who have a substance use disorder, such as alcoholism, will develop a mental illness.
The reason for this link is twofold: alcohol can raise the risk that a mental health disorder will develop, and those with mental illness may use alcohol in excess to try to treat the symptoms of their mental illness.
Alcohol & Teen Mental Health
During the teenage years, teens’ brains and psyches are still developing. Teens are learning how to cope with emotional difficulties and stress and learning how to interact socially. Those who use alcohol as a coping mechanism may not learn how to emotionally cope in a healthy way and may find that alcohol becomes an important part of learning to cope psychologically. Effects of alcohol on mental health may lead to long-term mental health problems and the development of mental illnesses.
Besides the psychological damage that alcohol can cause in teens, it can also lead to brain damage that teens are more susceptible to. Alcohol use by teens can damage areas of the brain that are important in logic, reasoning, judgment, learning, and behavior. This can lead to mental health impairments and affect teens’ development.
Social Effects of Alcohol on Teen Mental Health
Teen alcohol use is often due to peer pressure and is initially used due to social reasons. Teens often like the physical, mental and social effects of alcohol and use alcohol because these effects can be pleasurable over the short term. Alcohol also allows teens to socialize with certain groups or provides them with the ability to cope in stressful social situations. Some of the social reasons that teens drink alcohol include:
- Increased confidence: Alcohol can provide teens with increased levels of confidence that helps their ability to interact socially. This increased confidence can cause teens to act in ways that they normally would not and can lead to embarrassing or compromising situations.
- Fewer worries & less stress: One of the mental and emotional effects of alcohol is that it can decrease worry and stress while intoxicated. This is appealing to teens who may have worries or feel stressed about engaging in social activities. Teens often do not understand that this is a temporary solution that can lead to increased worry and stress in the long-term.
- Increased self-esteem: Alcohol itself does not tend to increase self-esteem, but using alcohol in a group of peers who are pressuring a teen to do so can increase that teen’s self-esteem and provide the impression that their social standing has increased. Because using alcohol is restricted for minors, using alcohol can also make a teen feel more mature.
- Reduced social anxiety: The effects of alcohol on teens include a reduction in anxiety levels while intoxicated. This tends to depend on alcohol to feel sufficiently at peace in social settings.
Alcohol Use & Mood Disorders in Teens
Alcohol use is connected with the development of mood disorders and depression in teens. Mental health problems such as mood disorders typically develop during the teen or young adult years, and as many as two-thirds of mental health conditions start to be evident by 25 years old.
Because alcohol increases the risk of mental health disorders, using alcohol during this important period can lead to mood disorders and other mental health conditions. Alcohol decreases teens’ ability to cope with stress and develop confidence by providing an alternative to developing these important psychological tools.
Teen Alcohol Use & Suicide Risk
Suicide in young adults is the third leading cause of death in people aged 18 to 25. While there are several risk factors for suicide in youth, research shows that teens who drink alcohol are three times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers who do not drink. Alcohol use in teens is also associated with increased frequency and severity of violent behaviors, as well as an increased likelihood of experiencing dating or peer violence.
Recognizing Dangerous Mental Health Effects of Alcohol in Teens
The teen years bring about a lot of changes in behavior and thought patterns in young adults. It can be difficult for parents to tell what is normal and what may be a developing mental health issue. Some of the signs of a mental health problem in teens may include:
- Excessive sleepiness beyond what would normally be expected
- Insomnia or excessive tiredness throughout the day
- Decreased self-esteem
- Decreased personal hygiene and self-care
- An unexpected decline in academic performance
- Noticeable weight loss or loss of appetite
- Personality or mood swings, such as excessive anger
- Becoming withdrawn or isolated
While teens with mental health conditions caused or influenced by alcohol use may develop these symptoms, it takes a doctor to definitively conclude that a teen is developing a mental health disorder.
How to Find Help for Your Teen
If your teen is using alcohol or starting to develop a mental health condition that could be caused by alcohol use, then you should have them assessed by a healthcare professional as soon as possible. A doctor or psychiatrist will be able to tell if your teen truly has a mental health condition and will be able to provide treatment that will help your teen with their mental illness.
If your teen also has an alcohol use disorder, they will need specialized treatment for both alcohol addiction and mental health conditions. This combination of conditions is called a co-occurring condition, and treatment for co-occurring conditions requires treatment of both conditions at the same time to have the best possible outcome.
If your teen has an alcohol use disorder and it may be affecting their mental health, then they will need immediate professional help. Next Generation Village has a strong record of helping those with alcohol addictions and mental illness to achieve and maintain lasting sobriety, avoiding the potential long-term effects of alcoholism. Reach out to one of our understanding, compassionate team members to learn how your teen can start on their path to recovery today.