Teen substance use linked to mental health issues

Feb 13, 2024

According to the results of a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), teenagers who drink alcohol, or smoke cigarettes or cannabis are more likely to experience psychiatric symptoms compared to their peers who do not use these substances.

Specifically, the mental health symptoms identified by the study as being linked to teen substance use including anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, and suicidal ideation. Moreover, the study’s authors suggest that asking adolescents about substance use can provide a screening tool for the identification of underlying mental health issues.

“Universally screening for psychiatric symptoms in the context of all types of substance use is what we think might be most important,” said Dr. Brenden Tervo-Clemmens, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota and lead author of the research study in his interview with New York Times. “All the symptoms of mental health we examined, be it depression, suicidal thoughts, ADHD, were elevated no matter what the substance was,” he added.

In addition, the study results demonstrated that the level of substance use was linked to the intensity of symptoms. Specifically, daily or near-daily substance use, but not weekly or monthly use, was linked to a moderate increase in psychiatric symptoms. In addition, a link between substance use and mental health was found even at low levels of drug and alcohol use. “Alcohol, cannabis and nicotine use each had significant, moderate dose-dependent associations with worse psychiatric symptoms, including suicidal thoughts,” reads the study

The data for the study was collected from two large groups: one group was comprised of 15,600 high school students in Massachusetts, and the other group used included 17,000 teens who responded to the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey. 

The study results revealed the link between multiple symptoms and multiple substances. “It’s not just cannabis, it’s not just alcohol, it’s not just nicotine,” said Dr. Tervo-Clemmens. “It seems to be no matter the substance.”