Dual diagnosis is very common, particularly when it comes to mental disorders and addiction. Depression and drug abuse are, unfortunately, a common pairing in patients of all ages—including teens. Many parents are surprised to learn that a dual diagnosis happens in over half of teens addicted to drugs. However, that doesn’t mean that every treatment center specializes in dual diagnosis.
Drug Abuse & Depression: Understanding Teenage Dual Diagnosis
The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 60 percent of all addicts also have a mental disorder. Mental disorders paired with drug abuse can be especially dangerous in teens and young adults because their brain is still developing. The diagnosis of mental illnesses is common during this timeframe due to this factor. Plus, this is also a time with a lot of peer pressure, and scrambling for ways to cope can lead to self-medicating.
Why Depression is Such a Common Dual Diagnosis
There are many types of mental disorders and illnesses, but depression is one of the most common diagnoses to accompany drug abuse. This is true for both teens and adults. However, it’s also a dangerous combination. Depression can stem from various factors, including genetic, environmental, biological, and, of course, psychological. Addiction shares those roots, so it’s no wonder the two often found together.
Teenagers go through a lot of changes in their lives and throughout their bodies. Additionally, their brain chemistry is changing at a rapid pace. Most teens struggle to cope at some point, which is why a supportive family and home are so important. Depression doesn’t necessarily look how you think it does, especially in teens. They may seem anxious when they’re depressed, which can lead to misdiagnosis (although anxiety and drug abuse are also common bedmates).
How to Spot Depression and Anxiety
Only a health professional can diagnosis depression, but parents need to know the red flags. A depressed teenager might lash out over something minor. Acting out might be a sign of depression or simply being a teen. Parents should watch for teens seeming anxious or empty regularly, signs of feeling hopeless, excessive fatigue (which can be tough to determine in a teen!), trouble sleeping, issues concentrating, significant changes in appetite or weight (again, difficult to tell with a teen), and any regular complaints of body pains or aches. For a teen who is already in recovery from addiction, a depressive episode can be a big trigger for a relapse.
A teen might also be struggling with anxiety alongside addiction. The symptoms can look very similar to depression. It’s estimated that only 20 percent of teens who have anxiety are diagnosed. In addition to the symptoms of depression, an anxious teen might exhibit nausea, trembling, sweating, trouble relaxing, and they might startle easily.
While generalized anxiety disorders are rare before adolescence, they do occur. The teenaged years are a prime period for them to take root. A big red sign of anxiety is if a teen feels like they are truly incapable of functioning because of worry. This leads them to avoid friends, work, school, and hobbies they used to enjoy.
Depression and anxiety are just two of many mental disorders that can occur alongside drug addiction. There’s also ADHD, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, and much more. It’s critical to work with treatment centers that specialize in dual diagnosis and your teen’s diagnosis in particular. If underlying mood disorders are not treated, any “treatment” might be futile and allow teens to fall between the cracks. All disorders can and should be treated at once and in tandem.