Both mental health and substance use disorders affect not only the teen but also their friends and family. Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between what is typical teen behavior and something more serious. You don’t know if their mood and behavior changes are due to substance misuse, lack of sleep, or hormones.
You wonder if your teen is experimenting with alcohol or drugs, if they are misusing substances to cope with stress, or if they have an addiction. Many common teen co-occurring disorders have symptoms to help identify your teen’s situation. Because so many factors play a role in teen co-occurring disorders, it is best to let an adolescent treatment specialist make that determination. You may learn your teen has a co-occurring disorder.
Understanding Teen Co-Occurring Disorders
Co-occurring is a term used to describe two things happening simultaneously. For adolescents, co-occurring means simultaneously having a mental health and substance use disorder. Research shows up to 45% of teens with a mental illness often have substance abuse. Also, of teens with a substance use disorder, over 60% have a mental health disorder.
Some professionals may use terms like “dual diagnosis” or “comorbid” when discussing teens with mental health and substance use disorders. Intoxicating substances alter how the brain functions, including how the brain produces neurotransmitters associated with mood. For some teens, misusing alcohol or drugs can lead to a mental health disorder.
Other teens may develop teen co-occurring disorders by experiencing depression, anxiety, or other mental health symptoms. To cope with those symptoms, they start drinking alcohol or misusing drugs. Numerous symptoms associated with teen co-occurring disorders can help identify an issue early on. It is essential to recognize the signs and symptoms and seek treatment early.
Signs of Teen Co-Occurring Disorders
Because there is more than one disorder, learn to recognize the signs of each condition. Some characteristics are the same for mental health and adolescent substance abuse disorders. Mental health disorders also have symptoms that distinguish them from others.
For example, a teen who misuses marijuana can experience sleep, attitude, and appetite changes. These symptoms are also associated with anxiety, depression, and other common mental health disorders. Knowing all symptoms of the most common teen co-occurring disorders is beneficial in knowing when to seek treatment.
Symptoms of Teen Co-Occurring Disorders
Teen co-occurring disorders symptoms are oftentimes the easiest way to tell if your teen is struggling with mental health and substance use. Depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and conduct disorder are the most commonly diagnosed with substance misuse and co-occurring disorders. Their distinguishing symptoms, the ones specific to the condition, are below.
Symptoms of Depression
Depressive symptoms in teens can range from mild to severe. Some signs may come and go, and others may be continual, including (but not limited to):
- Trouble sleeping or oversleeping;
- Aches and pains in muscles or joints;
- Fatigue when they should have energy;
- Thoughts, plans, or attempts of suicide;
- Inappropriate guilt or feeling worthless;
- Appetite changes that lead to weight gain or loss;
- Crying or being tearful without a noticeable cause;
- Mood always seems to be low, irritable, or agitated.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Teen anxiety can feel like a nervous knot in your stomach or put you into a panic. Stress can interfere with functioning on many levels. Symptoms include (but are not limited to):
- Trouble focusing;
- Explosive outbursts;
- Overly self-conscious;
- Pacing back and forth;
- Repetitive statements or actions;
- Feeling restless, fidgety, and having trouble sleeping;
- Being unable to go certain places without feeling anxious;
- Consistent thoughts that something terrible is going to happen.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
The above symptoms of depression and anxiety can be present in teen bipolar disorder. Other signs to watch out for include (but are not limited to):
- Psychotic episodes;
- Reckless behaviors;
- Delusional thinking;
- Inflated self-confidence;
- Speech is faster and more continuous;
- Impulsiveness and risky behaviors when manic.
Symptoms of ADHD
- Easily distracted;
- Unable to sit still;
- Short attention span;
- Constantly losing items;
- Makes careless mistakes.
Symptoms of PTSD
PTSD symptoms in teens typically appear after a traumatic event occurs, such as sexual or physical abuse, the death of a loved one, being in an accident, or surviving a terrible event. Symptoms that may appear include (but are not limited to):
- Flat emotions;
- Easily agitated or startled;
- Unkempt or disheveled appearance;
- Stops participating in social activities.
Symptoms of Conduct Disorder
Teens with conduct disorder appear to enjoy hurting others. It may look like they don’t care about other people and their destructive behaviors tend to be extreme. Symptoms include (but are not limited to):
- Hurting animals;
- Disobeying social norms;
- Telling lies to manipulate people;
- Bullying and teasing that is extreme;
- Being violent towards people or things.
Symptoms of Substance Abuse
Many adolescent substance abuse symptoms overlap with mental health symptoms, like losing interest in activities and withdrawing socially. If you see any of these symptoms, your teen may have a co-occurring disorder. Look for the following warning signs of drug and alcohol misuse:
- Slurred speech;
- Drop in grades;
- Skipping school;
- Erratic behaviors;
- Change in friend groups;
- Behavior problems at school;
- Borrowing or taking money from you.
Treating Teen Co-Occurring Disorders
The good news is that various therapies and treatment options for teen co-occurring disorders. The key to success is to treat both disorders at the same time. If only mental health is treated, continuing to misuse substances will cause a mental health relapse. If your teen only gets treated for a substance use disorder but doesn’t learn how to cope with mental health symptoms, it will be hard to avoid misusing drugs or alcohol when they have a future mental health episode. There are many treatment options, starting with an evaluation by a treatment professional.
Your teen will be assigned a treatment team, including a doctor, therapist, and support staff. Together, they will create a treatment plan for your teen’s needs. Treatment plans often include a combination of medication and therapy modalities to treat the issues. The treatment program’s intensity depends on the symptoms of teen co-occurring disorders. Some teens may need inpatient treatment for stabilization, and some may benefit more from intensive outpatient programs. If your teen is exhibiting symptoms of any kind, don’t wait to have them evaluated. Reach out to an adolescent treatment center in your area today.