Drug Use in Teens Associated With Depressive Symptoms

The teen years are often when problems with both mental health symptoms and substance experimentation begin. The high rate of development of mental disorders compared with other stages in life is believed to be attributable to the rapid brain development and other physical changes happening during adolescence. Experts believe that substance use often begins during the teen years because teens tend to be more open to risk-taking behavior compared with adults. The early initiation of beginning to use drugs or alcohol during high school is problematic because many of the teens go on to adulthood with a substance use disorder. In the cases of both drug use and mental health symptoms, parents, educators and healthcare providers can apply early intervention and prevention strategies if high-risk teens are identified. Early intervention is important in both drug use and mental disorders to improve outcomes, and identifying factors that predict high-risk teens can help in getting treatment sooner. A recent study examined the relationship between certain drugs and depression in teenagers. The researchers looked at methylinedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, ecstasy), and the use of amphetamines or stronger methamphetamine, or speed, and subsequent episodes of depressive symptoms. The longitudinal study involved 3,880 high school students and discovered that students who used either drug were 60 to 70 percent more likely to report depressive symptoms when compared to students who did not use the drugs. The findings represented incidences experienced in isolation from other depressive symptoms or other types of drug use. The study, which appears in the April issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, was led by Frédéric N. Brière, PhD, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Montreal in Quebec, Canada. The authors of the study note that this is the first study to provide evidence of a connection between MDMA and meth/amphetamine use and high school students exhibiting depressive symptoms. The findings come at a time when the popularity of meth/amphetamine and MDMA is on the rise. What used to be a drug identified with clubs and urban centers is now moving out to the suburbs and to high school students. The researchers explain that the last two decades have shown increased use of MDMA in combination with meth/amphetamine among teens. The use of the two drugs often occurs simultaneously, at times by design, but also because of impurities in the drugs. The researchers followed the students between 2003 and 2008. During their 10th grade year, the 15 and 16 year old students were interviewed about their drug use. The following year, when they students were in 11th grade, they were assessed for mental health using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression. The students were more likely to be using meth/amphetamine than MDMA, but the use of the combination of the drugs was more common than the use of either drug independently. There were no differences noted between the genders in drug use or preference. At the one year follow-up, approximately 15 percent of the teens exhibited a high level of depressive symptoms. The results of the mental health assessment showed that those who had used MDMA and meth/amphetamines significantly increased their likelihood of developing symptoms of depression at the follow-up. The teens that used the combination of the drugs were nearly twice as likely to exhibit symptoms of depression compared to teens who abstained from drug use. The researchers believe that this finding illustrates a synergistic adverse effect occurring between the two drugs. The relationship between the use of the two drugs and the incidence of depressive symptoms was considered to be modest. The connection is important, however, because it can have serious implications when considering the findings from the perspective of population health concerns. The findings may be helpful for those who develop strategies for early intervention among teens exhibiting signs of drug use or mental health symptoms. The identification of high-risk teens may make immediate treatment possible and improve the likelihood of success with treatment.

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