Teen Anxiety and Drug Abuse

While talking about mental health and suicide to a group of 13-year-olds recently I had a student share that they knew “someone” who had gone to an adult because they needed help. In fact, the person had gone to several adults—adults who saw physical signs of abuse and heard their stories about self-destructive behavior, but who did nothing because they didn’t understand what they saw and heard. 

Identifying anxiety in kids and getting help is important. However, identifying the source of the anxiety sometimes is harder than it looks. 

One-third of all adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 will experience an anxiety disorder, according to the National Institutes of Health, with the incidence among girls (38 percent) far outpacing that in boys (26.1 percent).

Compare teens of today to teens of just 20 years ago. Our environment is drastically different; both online and outside, it is impersonal, unsafe and even hostile. Today teens must be prepared for a possible attack not only in a chat room but within the walls of their own schools. Movie theaters, concerts, malls, social media; it seems nowhere is safe. 

Add to that the pressure of school. The expectation is that an eighth-grader needs to decide “what they want to do with their life,” which in turn dictates their next four years and determines their future. Today the pressure to perform seems to outweigh the importance of acknowledging a good and caring person in the community, or one who is in need. 

For some this pressure turns into feelings of anxiety and depression. 

The result is teens are diagnosing teens: Take Xanax if you’re depressed or anxious. For those on a path to wellness through therapeutic support, Xanax is a tool to help them manage. But the word is out: Xanax is now the drug of choice for teenagers in our area and it is easy for them to get because most adults don’t realize how dangerous it can be.

Resources at the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department report that students advertise Xanax for sale by posting handfuls on Instagram. Where are they getting it? Grandma, Mom, Dad, neighbors. What most don’t realize is that Xanax is highly addictive and potentially deadly when abused or mixed with alcohol. 

Pierce County’s Healthy Youth Survey in 2016 showed a rise in adolescent depression since 2006. At that time, 26 percent of surveyed youth said they had feelings of depression. In 2016 that number rose to 30 percent. In 2006 12 percent of adolescents reported considering or attempting suicide. In 2016 that number increased to 16 percent. Only 48 percent of eighth-graders, 47 percent of 10th-graders and 54 percent of 12th-graders said they had an adult to turn to when feeling sad or hopeless. 

When a child dies, everyone around them is affected and more fatalities often follow. Since 2007, the rate of suicide has doubled among children 10 to 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death between the ages of 10 and 24. The suicide rate among older teenage girls hit a 40-year high in 2015, according to newly released data from the National Center for Health Statistics. 

We can do a better job of caring. This may mean canceling personal plans in order to attend a school event or even planning a family night. Getting to know your child’s friends and their families is still important. It is through social interactions where we can look into each other’s eyes, press the flesh and enjoy the spoken word where we can make a difference. If we are not “checked in” how will we know when someone is “checked out,” when there is an important change in behavior?

While I was speaking to another eighth grade class about mental health and identifying signs of suicide, a young man raised his hand and said, “All those things that you talked about, those things that someone could be doing? That was me last year. That was totally me.” He went on to say, “I am better now and I am doing good,” and even shared some of his coping strategies. I was amazed at his bravery: to admit this in front of his peers was huge. To share that he had asked for help and was in a better place because of it carried a message far more powerful than I think he understood.

Anne Nesbit is the Prevention and Public Information Officer and the Volunteer Battalion Chief for the Key Peninsula Fire Department. She lives in Lakebay.

Signs of Teen Xanax Abuse

The signs of Xanax abuse are similar to the signs of other types of substance abuse. Warning signs include:

  • Behavior changes and mood swings
  • Increasing the dose or frequency of usage
  • Avoiding family functions or social activities in favor of time spent using the drug
  • Worrying about how much Xanax they have left
  • Thinking obsessively about the next time they can use it
  • Continued use despite negative impacts on the body, mental health and/or relationships
  • Legal problems as a result of using Xanax
  • Teen risk-taking behaviors, such as driving while under the influence of Xanax
  • Inability to control how much or how often they use the drug
Siren's Song