Signs of Mental Health or Addiction Problems in Teens

Published On: October 17, 2016|Categories: Addiction, Adolescents, Mental Health|
signs of mental health or addiction problems in teens

We all know the stereotypes attributed to teenagers: mood swings, impulsive behavior, rebelliousness and a dependency on peer approval. Not every teen exhibits these traits, but they are characteristic of this developmental stage, and no one sees that more clearly than parents.

If you’ve found yourself noticing these behaviors, but feeling that it’s more than just teenage behavior at the root of it, you’re not alone. Many parents struggle to determine whether their child is facing normal adolescent issues or a problem that needs professional intervention.

If you’ve wondered whether your child is facing teen mental health symptoms or a substance use addiction, you can use this article as a guide. Here, we’ll list signs to look out for and how to bring up getting help.

Teen mental health signs

News stories of teens making drastic decisions are so often sensationalized, and as a parent, it can be easy to fear the worst. The good news is that mental health crises and addictions are always accompanied by signs and symptoms, so as long as you’re paying attention to your child and giving time to your relationship, you’re sure to notice when he or she is having a hard time.

Here are the top teen mental health signs to keep an eye out for.

  • extreme changes in mood;
  • changes in appetite;
  • changes in sleep/insomnia;
  • changes in social groups, hanging out with friends who appear to be a poor influence;
  • no longer participating in activities that were once enjoyable;
  • dropping out of sports or clubs;
  • participating in criminal behavior like stealing;
  • driving recklessly;
  • racing thoughts;
  • falling behind in school;
  • getting in trouble at school;
  • feeling on edge or becoming angry easily;
  • aggressiveness;
  • fighting at school;
  • a low self-esteem;
  • having drug paraphernalia (bongs, miniature spoons, lighters, etc.);
  • using a fake ID;
  • disobeying a curfew;
  • disobeying household rules;
  • secretive behavior;
  • sexual experimentation;
  • neglecting chores, pets, homework;
  • skipping school;
  • making excuses to avoid commitments;
  • having somatic complaints (stomachaches, migraines);
  • self-harm;
  • poor hygiene;
  • self-isolation;
  • paranoia.

Many teens struggle with a wide variety of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, ADHD, eating disorders, substance use disorders and so on. While there are many teen mental health symptoms that can clue you in that something beyond teenage emotions are at play, your best resource for noticing these issues is your parenting intuition.

You are the expert on your child, so as soon as you feel that a significant change has occurred in your child, it’s a good idea to get a second opinion from a doctor or a mental health expert.

Having a hard conversation

Knowing your child is struggling with a mental health disorder or addiction is one thing— addressing the topic is a whole different ball game. Conversations about mental health and substance use can be intimidating, especially if your family has a communication style that is more reserved.

To help you have a conversation to address teen mental health signs, here are a few tips.


The best way to have a conversation about a tricky topic is to plan it out in advance. This doesn’t mean you’ll need a script for everything you’re going to say, but you should think ahead regarding points you want to hit on and when to broach the topic. Preparing can prevent emotional arguments that grow in the heat of the moment when a symptom manifests.

Share from a place of compassion

The first point you’ll want to reinforce when you talk about mental health concerns is that your goal isn’t to judge, but to help. Your role as a parent is to provide unconditional love, and from your perspective it’s important to address this issue that could spiral and affect the rest of your child’s life. Reassure your child of your love and your willingness to offer support.

Identify specific examples

Chatting about signs of teen mental health or addiction should always include the changes that you’ve identified in your child. Whether you’ve been noticing a decrease in school performance or a shift in eating patterns, make sure to point out those particular instance out to your child.

Make time to listen

A good rule of thumb for conversations about mental health is to make sure you spend more time listening than you do talking. Your goal isn’t to “fix” your child or solve problems for them. That’s where professional treatment comes in. Your job is to express support and the best way to show you’re serious is to ensure you give uninterrupted time to listen on a regular basis.

Balance consequences

Parenting is a delicate dance of protecting your child and letting him or her experience the world independently. In regards to mental health and addiction, there are definitely some firm boundaries to set. Enforce strict abstinence from illegal drugs and put safety measures in place if your child has shown signs of suicidality.

While firm boundaries are always health for teens, there are some areas where your child should still have the agency to make decisions. While your child may disagree strongly with the rules you set, as a parent you are at liberty to decide what is best for your child. Just remember that your child should not be punished for his or her feelings, and doling out consequences can snuff open dialogue.

When to get help

When you start to notice teen mental health symptoms or signs of addiction, it can be hard to know when to say something or how serious the problem could be.

When you’re unsure what to do, look to your child’s normal functioning. Is your child unable to participate in school, friendship, family relationships, extra-curricular activities or daily tasks like showering and eating? If the answer is yes, it’s time to reach out. Mental health and substance use disorders impair functioning, making regular life challenging.

Help your teen find healing by getting in touch with treatment when signs of dysfunction start to become evident.

If your teen is exhibiting symptoms of mental health struggles or addiction, check out Pyramid Healthcare. With unique programming for adolescents, you’ll feel secure knowing your child is on the healing journey in a setting that is appropriate for his or her needs. Learn about teen treatment options today.

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