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Study: Teen substance use often linked to stress relief

February 8, 2024

Teens reporting substance use said they were motivated by wanting to relax, have fun or relieve stress, according to a new study.

“These findings suggest that interventions related to reducing stress and addressing mental health concerns might reduce these leading motivations for substance use among adolescents,” researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wrote in a new Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The team analyzed data on about 9,500 teens being evaluated for substance use disorder treatment from 2014-2022 and had used a substance in the past 30 days. The most common substances they used were marijuana (84%) and alcohol (49%).

The teens listed the following motivations for substance use:

  • 73% to feel mellow, calm or relaxed;
  • 50% to have fun/experiment;
  • 44% to sleep better;
  • 44% to stop worrying about a problem or forget bad memories;
  • 41% to make something less boring and
  • 40% to help with depression or anxiety.

The most common motivation for use of alcohol and nonprescription drugs was to have fun/experiment, while the main driver for using marijuana or misusing prescription pain medication was to feel relaxed, according to the study.

Teens were asked with whom they used substances and could select multiple responses. About 81% said they did so with friends, and 50% reported using them alone. Authors said they were especially concerned that about half of the teens misusing prescription drugs reported doing so alone.

“Prescription drug misuse while alone presents a significant risk for fatal overdose, especially given the proliferation of counterfeit pills resembling prescription drugs and containing illegal drugs (e.g. illegally manufactured fentanyl),” they wrote.

Authors called for teens to have access to effective treatment for substance use disorder and mental health conditions. In addition, they stressed the importance of educating teens on the dangers of substance use, how to recognize an overdose and how to respond to one, such as using naloxone.



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