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Co-Occurring Disorder and Youth

Young people sometimes turn to alcohol and drugs to cope with life’s frustrations, to feel more adult-like, to fit in, to rebel, or to satisfy their curiosity about drugs and drinking. Teens with depression or other mental health conditions are particularly vulnerable to alcohol and drug use.

Many adolescents fail to recognize that they are depressed and why they are depressed. But, when they drink alcohol or take drugs to alleviate their stress or emotional pain, they can develop or worsen depression.

Alcohol is a drug, with serious risks and potentially harmful consequences. Marijuana and other drugs are also dangerous and often addictive. Casual use of drugs like club drugs, inhalants and steroids can cause long-lasting brain damage and impair health.

Signs of adolescent alcohol and drug use

  • Getting drunk or high on drugs on a regular basis
  • Lying about alcohol or other drug use
  • Avoiding others to get drunk or high
  • Giving up activities once enjoyed to drink or use drugs
  • Planning drinking in advance, hiding alcohol, or drinking or using drugs alone
  • Having to drink more to get the same high
  • Drinking and driving
  • Believing that to have fun, drinking or drug use are necessary
  • Experiencing frequent hangovers
  • Blacking out
  • Pressuring others to drink or use drugs
  • Taking risks, including sexual risks
  • Becoming victim to perpetrators of violence
  • Feeling run-down, hopeless, depressed, or even suicidal
  • Acting selfish and not caring about others
  • Talking excessively about drinking or using drugs
  • Getting in trouble with the law
  • Getting suspended from school for an alcohol- or other drug-related incident

Consequences of adolescent alcohol and drug use

Behavioral and physical changes and life consequences associated with drug and alcohol use can include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Personality changes
  • General lack of motivation and energy
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Appetite changes
  • Oversensitivity
  • Moodiness
  • Nervousness
  • Having unplanned and unprotected sex
  • Declining grades and school failure
  • Depression
  • Loss of interest in family and friends
  • Excessive need for privacy, secretive or suspicious behavior
  • Suffering serious injuries from driving under the influence or engaging in other risky behavior

Help is available

It is important to get help for alcohol and drug problems early because the longer someone waits to get help, the harder it is to get better.

Adolescents who use alcohol or other drugs should be screened for depression, anxiety disorders and for the severity of their substance abuse problem. When appropriate, they should be referred to education or support groups, or for counseling.

Adolescents who feel that they, or one of their friends, may have alcohol or other drug problems should confide in a trusted adult such as a teacher, parent, friend’s parent or other caring individual. Also, most middle and high schools have student assistance and counseling services. School nurses, youth ministers and community youth workers are also excellent sources of information and help.

Other resources

This is a 24-hour hotline that provides confidential answers to questions or information about community resources.

Alcoholics Anonymous

National Institute on Drug Abuse

National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence

Additional reading

Growing up in recovery: 3 peer support programs that fill gaps for young people

How to navigate alcohol addiction recovery over the holidays

Substance use disorder

If you are struggling with alcohol or drug use and want to check on your mental health, take an online mental health screen here.

Visit to take an anonymous, free, and private mental health test. It only takes a few minutes, and after you are finished you will be given information about next steps you can take based on the results.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat You can also reach Crisis Text Line by texting HELLO to 741741.

Did this article help increase your knowledge and understanding of mental health?