Teen Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol kills 6.5 times more youth than all other illicit drugs combined.

Traffic crashes are the greatest single cause of death for all persons age 6–33. About 45% of these fatalities are alcohol-related crashes.

More than 60% of teens said that drugs were sold, used, or kept at their school.

Crystal meth has become the most dangerous drug problem of small town America. Kids between 12 and 14 that live in smaller towns are 104% more likely to use meth than those who live in larger cities.

Youth who drink alcohol are 50 times more likely to use cocaine than young people who never drink alcohol.

About 64% of teens (12-17) who have abused pain relievers say they got them from friends or relatives, often without their knowledge.

While rates of illicit drug use are declining, the rate of prescription drug use remains high. 15.4% of HS seniors reported non-medical use of at least one prescription medication within the past year.

In 2008, 1.9 million youth age 12 to 17 abused prescription drugs.

Around 28% of teens know a friend or classmate who has used ecstasy, with 17% knowing more than one user.

By the 8th grade, 52% of adolescents have consumed alcohol, 41% have smoked cigarettes, and 20% have used marijuana.

Teenagers whose parents talk to them regularly about the dangers of drugs are 42% less likely to use drugs than those whose parents don’t, yet only a quarter of teens report having these conversations.

Sources: National Institute on Drug Abuse, Adolescent Substance Abuse Knowledge Base Prescription for Danger


ADHD has been called attention-deficit disorder (ADD) in the past. But, ADHD is now the preferred term because it describes both primary aspects of the condition: inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behavior.

While many children who have ADHD tend more toward one category than the other, most children have some combination of inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behavior. ADHD symptoms become more apparent during activities that require focused mental effort.

In order to be diagnosed with ADHD, signs and symptoms of the disorder must appear before the age of 7. In some children, signs of ADHD are noticeable as early as 2 or 3 years of age.

Signs and symptoms of inattention may include:

Often fails to pay close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork or other activities

Often has trouble sustaining attention during tasks or play

Seems not to listen even when spoken to directly

Has difficulty following through on instructions and often fails to finish schoolwork, chores or other tasks

Often has problems organizing tasks or activities

Avoids or dislikes tasks that require sustained mental effort, such as schoolwork or homework

Frequently loses needed items, such as books, pencils, toys or tools

Can be easily distracted

Often forgetful

Signs and symptoms of hyperactive and impulsive behavior may include:

Fidgets or squirms frequently

Often leaves his or her seat in the classroom or in other situations when remaining seated is expected

Often runs or climbs excessively when it’s not appropriate or, if an adolescent, might constantly feel restless

Frequently has difficulty playing quietly

Always seems on the go

Talks excessively

Blurts out the answers before questions have been completely asked

Frequently has difficulty waiting for his or her turn

Often interrupts or intrudes on others’ conversations or games

What is Asperger’s Disorder?

Asperger’s Disorder is a milder variant of Autistic Disorder. Both Asperger’s Disorder and Autistic Disorder are in fact subgroups of a larger diagnostic category. This larger category is called either Autistic Spectrum Disorders, mostly in European countries, or Pervasive Developmental Disorders (“PDD”), in the United States.

In Asperger’s Disorder, affected individuals are characterized by social isolation and eccentric behavior in childhood. There are impairments in two-sided social interaction and non-verbal communication. Though grammatical, their speech may sound peculiar due to abnormalities of inflection and a repetitive pattern. Clumsiness may be prominent both in their articulation and gross motor behavior. They usually have a circumscribed area of interest which usually leaves no room for more age appropriate, common interests. Some examples are cars, trains, French Literature, door knobs and hinges, cappuccino, meteorology, astronomy or history.

The name “Asperger” comes from Hans Asperger, an Austrian physician who first described the syndrome in 1944. An excellent translation of Dr. Asperger’s original paper is provided by Dr. Uta Frith in her Autism and Asperger Syndrome.

Dealing with Teen Anger

Is My Teen Just Angry or Is She an Angry Teen?

As an elementary public school teacher, I was appalled when one of my first grade students stood on a chair, threw his arms up and screamed, “I hate you!” followed by numerous expletives describing his feelings about me. Because I’d been a compliant child, I didn’t understand why so many of my students were angry and I didn’t know what to do.

Perhaps you’re at the end of your rope like I was. Not because you’re a teacher with angry students, but because the sweet baby you birthed is now an irritated four-to-seven year old who is pitching fits, screaming, yelling and throwing things.

You’re not alone.

Parents everywhere are wringing their hands in desperation because one — or more — of their elementary-aged children are out of control with anger.

Many people believe that kids are like little rubber people — trouble bounces off and nothing bothers them long term. However, anger is a sign that children feel deeply and are not as resilient as we might think. Why? Because anger is a response to pain. It’s like a blinking light on the dashboard of your car that tells you something is wrong under the hood. For this reason, wise parents will not ignore or minimize their child’s anger.

Teen Depression

Teen depression has become something of an epidemic in our society. Major depression (also called “clinical” or “severe” depression) is a mental disorder characterized by abnormally low moods that last for at least two weeks. Depression is the most common mental disorder and, according to the American Psychological Association, approximately 20 percent of teens will go through at least one episode of teen depression by the time they graduate from high school.

Causes of Teen Depression

Abuse or conflict at home
Being bullied at school
Chronic illness
Family history of depression
Gender (females are at a greater risk for teen depression)
Hormonal changes
Low self-esteem
Other issues such as anxiety disorders, behavioral problems, and/or learning disabilities
Stressful life events (i.e. a break-up, divorce, death of a loved one, etc.).
Teen Depression Symptoms
Some of the most common symptoms of depression include:
Agitation, irritability, and difficulty concentrating
Apathy and loss of interest in daily activities or hobbies
Change in personality
Changes in appetite accompanied by weight fluctuations
Constant fatigue and lack of energy
Feelings of worthlessness, guilt and low self-esteem
Suicidal thoughts.

Teen depression may include additional symptoms not observed in adults with depression. Some of these teen depression signs include:

Changes in sleeping patterns
Cutting or other forms of self-injury
Eating disorders
Isolation from family and friends
Poor performance at school and work
Substance abuse
Violent and/or criminal behavior.
Teen Suicide
Teen depression is associated with a greater risk of teen suicide. According to the World Health Organization, teenagers are now the highest risk group for suicide in approximately 33 percent of countries around the world.

Common warning signs of teen suicide include:

Expressing the wish to be dead
Getting affairs in order by giving away prized possessions
Talking about suicide
Worsening symptoms of teen depression.

The Anxious Child

All children experience anxiety. Anxiety in children is expected and normal at specific times in development. For example, from approximately age 8 months through the preschool years, healthy youngsters may show intense distress (anxiety) at times of separation from their parents or other persons with whom they are close. Young children may have short-lived fears, (such as fear of the dark, storms, animals, or strangers). Anxious children are often overly tense or uptight. Some may seek a lot of reassurance, and their worries may interfere with activities. Parents should not discount a child’s fears. Because anxious children may also be quiet, compliant and eager to please, their difficulties may be missed. Parents should be alert to the signs of severe anxiety so they can intervene early to prevent complications. There are different types of anxiety in children.

Symptoms of separation anxiety include:

constant thoughts and intense fears about the safety of parents and caretakers
refusing to go to school
frequent stomachaches and other physical complaints
extreme worries about sleeping away from home
being overly clingy
panic or tantrums at times of separation from parents
trouble sleeping or nightmares

Symptoms of phobia include:

extreme fear about a specific thing or situation (ex. dogs, insects, or needles)
the fears cause significant distress and interfere with usual activities

Symptoms of social anxiety include:

fears of meeting or talking to people
avoidance of social situations
few friends outside the family

Other symptoms of anxious children include:

many worries about things before they happen
constant worries or concerns about family, school, friends, or activities
repetitive, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) or actions (compulsions)
fears of embarrassment or making mistakes
low self esteem and lack of self-confidence

Severe anxiety problems in children can be treated. Early treatment can prevent future difficulties, such as loss of friendships, failure to reach social and academic potential, and feelings of low self-esteem. Treatments may include a combination of the following: individual psychotherapy, family therapy, medications, behavioral treatments, and consultation to the school.

If anxieties become severe and begin to interfere with the child’s usual activities, (for example separating from parents, attending school and making friends) parents should consider seeking an evaluation from a qualified mental health professional.

 What Is Attachment?

Attachment is a reciprocal process by which an emotional connection develops between an infant and his/her primary caretaker. It influences the child’s physical, cognitive, and psychological development. It becomes the basis for development of basic trust or mistrust, and shapes how the child will relate to the world, learn, and form relationships throughout life. Healthy attachment occurs when the infant experiences a primary caretaker as consistently providing emotional essentials such as touch, movement, eye contact and smiles, in addition to the basic necessities — food, shelter, and clothing.

If this process is disrupted, the child may not develop the secure base necessary to support all future healthy development. Factors which may impair healthy attachment include: multiple caretakers, invasive or painful medical procedures, hospitalization, abuse, poor prenatal care, prenatal alcohol or drug exposure, and neurological problems.

Children with attachment disturbance often project an image of self-sufficiency and charm while masking inner feelings of insecurity and self hate. Infantile fear, hurt and anger are expressed in disturbing behaviors that serve to keep caretakers at a distance and perpetuate the child’s belief that s/he is unlovable. These children have difficulty giving and receiving affection on their parents’ terms, are overly demanding and clingy, and may annoy parents with endless chatter. They attempt to control attention in negative ways. Additional behaviors may include: poor eye contact, abnormal eating patterns, poor impulse control, poor conscience development, chronic, “crazy” lying, stealing, destructiveness to self, others, and property, cruelty to animals and preoccupation with fire, blood, and gore.

Such children often do not respond well to traditional parenting or therapy since both rely on the child’s ability to form relationships, and to internalize the parents and their values. Therapy and parenting that utilize the elements of basic attachment have been found to be more helpful. A more directive approach using nurturing touch, eye contact, and physical and emotional closeness can provide a corrective emotional experience and create a foundation for a healthier attachment between child and parent.

(Highest risk if these occur in first two years of life)
Sudden or traumatic separation from primary caretaker (through death, illness hospitalization of caretaker, or removal of child)
Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
Neglect (of physical or emotional needs)
Illness or pain which cannot be alleviated by caretaker
Frequent moves and/or placements
Inconsistent or inadequate care at home or in day care (care must include holding, talking, nurturing, as well as meeting basic physical needs)
Chronic depression of primary caretaker
Neurological problem in child which interferes with perception of or ability to receive nurturing. (i.e. babies exposed to crack cocaine in utero)

A. Unable to engage in satisfying reciprocal relationship:
1. Superficially engaging, charming (not genuine)
2. Lack of eye contact
3. Indiscriminately affectionate with strangers
4. Lack of ability to give and receive affection on parents’ terms (not cuddly)
5. Inappropriately demanding and clingy
6. Persistent nonsense questions and incessant chatter
7. Poor peer relationships
8. Low self esteem
9. Extreme control problems – may attempt to control overtly, or in sneaky ways
B. Poor cause and effect thinking:
10. Difficulty learning from mistakes
11. Learning problems – disabilities, delays
12. Poor impulse control
C. Emotional development disturbed: child shows traits of young child in “oral stage”
13. Abnormal speech patterns
14. Abnormal eating patterns
D. Infantile fear and rage. Poor conscience development.
15. Chronic “crazy” lying
16. Stealing
17. Destructive to self, others, property
18. Cruel to animals
19. Preoccupied with fire, blood, and gore
E. “Negative attachment cycle” in family
1. Child engages in negative behaviors which can’t be ignored
2. Parent reacts with strong emotion, creating intense but unsatisfying connection
3. Both parent and child distance and connection is severed

By Kathleen G. Moss, LCSW, ACSW.