Self-medicating is using illegal substances, alcohol, or unprescribed medications to treat mental or behavioral health disorder symptoms. When adolescents have experienced trauma or feel something is wrong with them, they might turn to drugs or alcohol to feel better. If you suspect a teen you care about is self-medicating, call the caring professionals at Imagine Spokane at 509.870.3810 and learn how you can help.
Why Do Teens Self-Medicate?
Technically, the term self-medicate does not always refer to the use of illicit substances or involve addiction. People might take herbal supplements for insomnia or CBD oil to help joint stiffness because a friend suggested it or because they read about it on the internet.
When no doctor has been consulted and no formal diagnosis has been given, taking any substance to treat a symptom is considered self-medicating.
The dangers arise when people, especially young people, attempt to self-medicate serious health conditions like mental health disorders. Successful treatment of mental health conditions requires diagnostic testing and evaluation by a trained medical professional. Finding the right treatment can take months of effort, and identifying effective medications and the best dosage may take some trial and error.
When individuals try to medicate their symptoms, they risk masking a serious mental health problem. They also increase their risk of developing an addiction. Reasons why teens might choose to self-medicate include:
- Fear of seeking treatment and dealing with stigma
- Lack of support from parents and guardians for seeking treatment
- Shame related to trauma
- Past use of prescription medications that did not bring relief
Young people simply may not understand that there is help for what they feel. With little life experience to guide them, they may believe their problem is a character flaw instead of a treatable condition. When teens have only unhealthy coping mechanisms to help them handle stress, they may turn to drugs or alcohol as a release.
Common Conditions Teens Might Be Self-Medicating
Not every child who experiments with drugs or alcohol or has occasional behavioral problems has a mental health disorder. However, mental health concerns among adolescents are more common than many people realize. The most frequently diagnosed mental health disorders in teens include:
- Generalized anxiety
- Social phobias
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Eating disorders
The warning signs of mental health disorders vary. That being said, a professional evaluation is the best option if you’ve noticed extreme changes in your child’s behavior, academic achievement, or social skills, or if they frequently complain of body aches, fatigue, or anxiety.
Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms Are Dangerous
It can be hard to understand or even recognize the consequences of self-medicating, especially for young people. However, there is no doubt that self-medication is dangerous. Some of the risks include:
- Becoming physically dependent or addicted to a substance
- Masking a serious condition
- Making the condition that they are self-treating worse
- Delaying appropriate medical intervention
- Experiencing adverse or harmful reactions to medications
When a teenager does not know how to cope with their mental health concerns, the adults in their lives need to remember that it is not the child’s fault. Coping strategies are learned behaviors, not something people are born knowing. Young people who develop unhealthy coping mechanisms like self-medicating require the compassion and guidance of those who know better.
Seek Treatment for Your Teen at Imagine Spokane Today
The caring team at Imagine Spokane understands the challenges of parenting as well as the difficulties today’s teenagers face. If a young person in your life is showing signs of mental illness or if you’re concerned they might be self-medicating, call Imagine Spokane today at [Direct} to learn more about our programs.