In a recent publication of the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics (JAMA Pediatrics), findings suggest that teenagers who engage in alcohol, cigarette, or cannabis consumption are more prone to experiencing psychiatric symptoms compared to their peers who abstain from these substances.

The study identifies specific mental health issues associated with teen substance use, such as anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, and suicidal thoughts. Moreover, the researchers propose that inquiring about adolescents’ substance use could serve as a valuable screening tool to detect underlying mental health concerns.

Dr. Brenden Tervo-Clemmens, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota, emphasized the importance of universal screening for psychiatric symptoms in the context of all substance use. In an interview with the New York Times, he stated, “All the symptoms of mental health we examined, be it depression, suicidal thoughts, ADHD, were elevated no matter what the substance was.”

Furthermore, the study revealed a correlation between the intensity of substance use and the severity of symptoms. Daily or near-daily substance use, as opposed to weekly or monthly use, was associated with a moderate increase in psychiatric symptoms. The study notes, “Alcohol, cannabis, and nicotine use each had significant, moderate dose-dependent associations with worse psychiatric symptoms, including suicidal thoughts.”

Although the occurrence of mental health issues is on the increase for today’s youth their use of alcohol and drugs is actually on the decline, particularly binge-drinking and cigarette smoking. This trend means that for many of those who are using drugs or alcohol it is a form of self-medication, which supports the ability to be able to ask youth about their drug or alcohol use as a screen for mental health obstacles. 

The data for the research was gathered from two extensive cohorts: one comprised 15,600 high school students in Massachusetts, and the other included 17,000 teens who participated in the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The results underscore the relationship between various symptoms and a range of substances. Dr. Tervo-Clemmens emphasized, “It’s not just cannabis, it’s not just alcohol, it’s not just nicotine. It seems to be no matter the substance.”