Posted on November 29, 2013 in Mental Health

Mental Illness Not Uncommon for Young Adults But Can Lead to Substance Abuse

Few people make it through the teen years wound-free. Taking their first individual steps socially, romantically and even intellectually can be nerve-wracking for the healthiest teen. The fears and vulnerabilities of adolescence make it a ripe period for developing mental illness.

A 2009 Australian government report revealed that one quarter of young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 has a mental illness of some kind on any given day. In fact, long-term research tracking kids from early adolescence to early adulthood (middle 20s) reveals that as many as half of all teens and young adults experience at least one occasion of mental illness like depression or anxiety.

An Australian study took a look at teens and young adults with mental illness in order to see what percentage of them were involved with alcohol or marijuana. Subjects for the study were engaged through mental health centers called Headspace. More than 2,000 young people coming to Headspace Centers for assessment and treatment of mental illness formed the backbone of the study.

The researchers learned that 12 percent of the teens ages 12 to 17 were consuming alcohol every week and seven percent were smoking marijuana once per week or more. Researchers said this creates a circular syndrome where kids struggling with anxiety or depression turn to alcohol or drugs to escape unwanted feelings and pressures. But drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana can also drive mental illness. Pretty soon it is hard to identify which problem is a first cause issue.

Alcohol is a depressant so, not surprisingly, it can create depression in drinkers. It can also lead to problems with anxiety including panic attacks. Stimulants and synthetic drugs are high risk addiction drugs. These substances can permanently harm the adolescent brain which is in the midst of significant development until early adulthood. Psychosis is a real risk with some of these drugs.

It is impossible to predict who will suffer most severely from drug or alcohol use. It is known that family history can strongly influence a person’s risk for addiction. If a family member has a drug or alcohol addiction, the young person faces a higher chance of developing one. But genetics are not the sole influence and do not perfectly predict problems.

Around two or three percent of kids who smoke marijuana will experience severe effects like hallucinations, distressed thoughts or delusions. But no one knows who will have to deal with these problems and who won’t when they decide to smoke.

Mental illness is a common problem during the transition into adulthood. Using drugs or alcohol can deepen those problems. The important thing is to seek help as soon as possible. Even serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia can be helped if the young person gets help quickly.  Unfortunately, many teens and young adults wait years before they admit their struggles and ask for help. Some never do.

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