top of page

Substance Use and Mental Health Disorders in Teenagers

We all know that the teenage years can be challenging, but for some teenagers, those challenges can be magnified by the presence of a mental health disorder. As a parent or caregiver, it can be difficult to know how to support a teenager who is struggling with both mental health issues and substance use. However, by recognizing the signs that a teenager's substance problem may be related to mental health disorders, we can take steps to provide the support and help they need to navigate these difficult times. In this blog post, we will share our insights on how families can support teenagers who are struggling with both mental health disorders and substance use.

Recognizing the Signs

The first step in supporting a teenager who is struggling with both mental health disorders and drug use is recognizing the signs that there may be a problem. Some common indicators include changes in behavior, self-medication, co-occurring disorders, family history, lack of social support, trauma, and withdrawal.

Changes in behavior can include increased agitation, mood swings, or a lack of interest in activities they used to enjoy. These behaviors may be exacerbated by drug use. Self-medication occurs when a teenager turns to drugs to alleviate symptoms such as worry or pessimism. In cases where a teenager has more than one mental health disorder, such as depression and anxiety, drug use may be a coping mechanism for both disorders.

Family history of mental health disorders can increase a teenager's risk for developing these conditions themselves, which in turn can lead to drug use. Lack of social support from family and friends may also be a risk factor. Traumatic experiences can lead to the development of mental health disorders and can also be a trigger for drug use as a form of self-medication. Finally, if a teenager stops using substances and experiences withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, depression, or irritability, this could be a sign that an underlying mental health disorder is present.

Vulnerability and Empathy

When we are faced with a teenager who is struggling with both mental health disorders and substance use, a natural reaction is to try to fix the problem with punishment. In other instances, we see families avoid the issue altogether. However, we find that long-term healing usually occurs with the true connection that takes place when families are willing to be vulnerable and empathetic.

As a parent or caregiver, it's important to create a safe space for teenagers to express their emotions and to acknowledge the difficulty of their situation. This can involve listening without judgment, validating their emotions, and being present with them in their struggles. By showing empathy and vulnerability, we can create a sense of connection that can help them feel supported and loved.

Seek Professional Help

Finally, it's important to seek professional help if you suspect your teenager is struggling with both mental health disorders and drug use. This can involve reaching out to a mental health professional, substance abuse counselor, or support group. Professional help can provide the necessary resources and tools to help your teenager navigate their struggles and build resilience for the future.


Supporting a teenager who is struggling with both mental health disorders and drug use is extremely challenging. It is important to recognize the signs, be vulnerable and empathetic, and seek professional help. By doing so, we can create a sense of connection and support that can help them build resilience and navigate the difficulties of the teenage years. Remember, we all have the capacity for vulnerability, empathy, and connection, and by tapping into those qualities, we can make a real difference in the lives of those around us.

If you have tried everything and can not seem to get through to your loved one, an intervention or case management services may be necessary. Reach out and we will help you understand the resources that are available to you and guide you through the difficult process of helping your teenager.


Disclaimer: Recovery Frameworks offers a non-clinical support service. The services and programs provided by Recovery Frameworks do not include medical advice, including diagnoses, medical care, or clinical treatment. Services should only be used in conjunction with the guidance and care of your doctors, therapists, consultants, and/or providers in part of your treatment team.

bottom of page