The mental health of adolescents and young adults is considered a major concern nationally and globally, as is their alcohol and drug use. An observation which pushed American researchers to find out if the use of these psychoactive substances could increase their mental distress, and their conclusions are clear. High school students who use it are more likely to experience mental health problems, which can range from inattention to suicidal thoughts.
Nearly a billion people suffered from at least one mental disorder worldwide in 2019, including 14% of adolescents, according to data made public by the World Health Organization (WHO). A worrying situation which has worsened with the Covid-19 pandemic, although it is still difficult to precisely quantify the consequences. The world health authority also indicates that alcohol and drug consumption among adolescents is also worrying, with no less than 155 million young people aged 15 to 19 affected by alcohol. “Alcohol and drug use among children and adolescents is associated with neurocognitive alterations that can lead to behavioral, emotional, social, and academic problems later in life“, the WHO reported in April 2023.
Increased risk of suicidal thoughts
Faced with the increase in mental health problems within this population, a team led by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Minnesota, in the United States, became interested in the potential association between use of common psychoactive substances, such as alcohol and cannabis, as well as nicotine, and psychiatric symptoms among high school students. To do this, they analyzed the results of a survey carried out among 15,626 high school students with an average age of nearly 16 years, all enrolled in establishments in Massachusetts.
“We sought to determine whether substance use was dose-dependently associated with various psychiatric symptoms in a large sample of high school students, and whether these associations differed depending on the type of substance consumed. substance consumed“, Randi M. Schuster, associate professor of psychology in the department of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and lead author of the study, in a press release. Verdict, their research reveals a strong link between the use of alcohol, cannabis, and /or nicotine and an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and other mental health disorders.
Screening and prevention, two priorities
Published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, their work suggests that use of these substances was also associated with an increased risk of symptoms of depression and anxiety, psychotic experiences, and symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In detail, the researchers specify that daily and almost daily consumption of these substances was associated with more frequent suicidal thoughts (around five times more) than zero consumption.
“Our study findings highlight the prevalence of psychiatric comorbidities among youth who use substances and strongly support the idea that screening, prevention, intervention, and policy efforts must address broader targets than substance use alone. Additionally, these efforts need not be specific to any given substance, but rather reflect the multifaceted mental health needs of all adolescents who use substances.“, concludes Brenden Tervo-Clemmens, assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
These results, which also show an increase in psychiatric symptoms among high school students who consume little alcohol, cannabis, or nicotine, will soon be supplemented by more specific information on the exact relationship between substance consumption and mental disorders. They are made public while a survey carried out by Ipsos for Our Future to All reports that 49% of adolescents are affected by anxiety disorders in Europe.