Certain problems, while also seen at other ages, are more particular to adolescents. These include:
- Abuse of marijuana
- Abuse of stimulants
- Addiction to the Internet
- Cutting (self-injury)
- Excessive risk-taking.
Obviously, any one of the above, in and of itself, is a significant problem. However, the behavior may also be part of a psychiatric disorder, or it may result in a psychiatric condition such as clinical depression.
Abuse of Marijuana. Heavy and prolonged marijuana use before the age of 16 affects the developing brain and can result in a range of problems. Cannabis Use Disorder is quite often seen in depressed adolescents or those with untreated ADHD. The addiction results in significant disruption of functioning and relationships, failure of repeated attempts to reduce use and withdrawal symptoms.
Stimulant Abuse. In today’s highly competitive school and college environments, students are pressured to perform at levels that may be beyond their natural ability. In such youngsters, underperformance can easily be confused with a disorder, resulting in the mistaken diagnosis of ADHD and the inappropriate prescribing of stimulants such as Adderall, often in very high doses. In addition, a rampant black market has developed in many high schools and colleges. Kids buy and use the drugs to stay awake and study, or just to get high. Such drug abuse can result in addiction, unintended overdoses (especially if stimulants are mixed with other drugs) and even psychosis.
The Internet. Adolescents and many children develop powerful relationships with their smartphones, and all youngsters play video games. Moderate use of these devices does not rewire the brain or lead to permanent emotional, behavioral or academic problems. However, without some degree of parental supervision, certain youngsters, particularly those with other problems, can become addicted. “Internet Gaming Disorder” is a proposed new psychiatric diagnosis. The teenager becomes obsessed, starts to fail in school, loses interest in other activities and withdraws from the family.
Cutting. Intentional self-injury is an abnormal way for some vulnerable teenagers to get relief from emotional pain. Occasionally depressed youngsters cut to punish themselves or “just to feel something.” Academic or social pressures may be involved. The most common trigger is romantic or social rejection. Sometimes “copy-cat” cutting is seen as a cool thing to do. Self-injury of this kind is not a real suicide attempt. Nevertheless, it should be taken seriously and evaluated by a mental health professional.
Risk-taking. Adolescents are prone to being reckless and susceptible to peer influences. Certain areas of the brain responsible for self-control are still developing, and there is an increase in sexual hormones at the onset of adolescence. In some cases, such as in youngsters with ADHD or those with low self-esteem who are unduly anxious to prove themselves, risk-taking can become dangerous. It may involve driving, drugs or sex. Excessive risk-taking should always be taken seriously, and the adolescent should be evaluated to determine if there is an underlying cause.