For many teenagers with substance use disorders, drug use begins as a way to manage stress. When teens do not have the skills or resources to cope with stress in healthy ways, they may turn to drug use or other unhealthy and dangerous ways to cope with their psychological distress. This is why it’s critically important for teens to learn to manage stress when they are recovering from substance abuse. The 2013 report on Stress in America from the American Psychological Association found that teens reported higher average stress levels than adults and much more stress than they believed to be healthy. Only 50 percent of teens said that they were confident in their abilities to handle the stressful situations in their lives, and, not surprisingly, school was the main source of stress for most teens. Many teens also feel that they do not have a great deal of control over their lives, particularly the situations in their lives that cause them the most stress. Teenagers who turn to drugs for stress management may feel that they are taking control of their situations and demonstrating their independence, yet the reality of drug abuse is that it can quickly overrun people’s lives and leave them less in control than ever before.
Stress and Sleep in Adolescents
Teens require a lot of sleep, and many do not get the desired nine hours. But getting enough sleep on a regular basis can greatly improve their abilities to handle the stress that comes their way. Situations that seem impossible to a sleep-deprived person seem much more manageable when that same person is well-rested. Unfortunately, many teens feel that their numerous obligations prevent them from getting as much sleep as they would like. If they can’t manage to squeeze in nine hours, then maximizing the hours that they do have becomes critical. Encourage teens to avoid caffeine, hours in front of a screen before bed and stimulating activities right before bed to help them to sleep well. Furthermore, recognize that teens need lots of sleep and that their natural sleep rhythms are different from those of adults, and avoid characterizing them as lazy when they sleep in for hours on the weekend.
Bringing Feelings Out Into the Open
Some people tend to bottle up or deny their stress, but this doesn’t make it any less real and often makes the stress worse. Encouraging teens to talk about their experiences and frustrations can help their stress to feel more manageable and can also help parents understand the ways in which they can help reduce the stress and pressure that their children are feeling. However, don’t make solving the problem the only priority when teens share their stress, particularly if this means pointing out all of the things that they could be doing better. Help teens to feel comfortable sharing their experiences by acknowledging that their feelings are legitimate and offering your sympathy and support.
Encourage the Things That Make Teens Happy
There are many things that can seem overwhelmingly important for a teen’s future, such as strong academic performance, job experience and application-enhancing extracurricular activities. But it’s also critical that teens continue to do the things that they love and at which they excel. This helps teens to have fun and to feel good about themselves, which helps them to lower their stress and become more resilient to the stress generated by the things that don’t come as naturally to them.