An eight-year study on the correlation between depression and drinking among adolescents indicates that depression often leads to drinking. Consequently, data demonstrated increased alcohol consumption in relation to short-term increases in depressive symptoms. Research shows that self-awareness and mindfulness may be the best way to deal with depressive emotions, thereby decreasing, and even eliminating, the urge to cope using alcohol.

The Research

Researchers interviewed 1,293 teenage students, between 1999 and 2006, about their consumption habits, related specifically to alcohol. Almost half of the students surveyed reported using alcohol in the previous year. Teenagers are also prone to depressive symptoms, including sadness and/or loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. Adolescents who drink report more of these depressive symptoms than their peers who do not drink. Furthermore, teens who feel these negative emotions start drinking earlier and more frequently. Using alcohol to cope with depressive symptoms is dangerous and can lead to extreme consequences.

Using Alcohol to Self-Medicate Can Lead To:

  • subsequent substance abuse involving drugs or alcohol
  • the development of an alcohol-use disorder
  • developing severe depression, or worsening depressive symptoms
  • suicidal thoughts or suicide

Self-awareness is central to dealing with negative feelings in healthy ways. Teaching teens to recognize their emotional experience supports their ability to properly care for themselves. Mindfulness techniques, journaling, and meditation are common methods used to cultivate self-awareness and cope with difficult emotions.

The question of whether teenagers’ drinking habits lead to depression, or if depressive symptoms lead to alcohol consumption has been asked by many. This research seems to point to the latter. If we create resources to focus on the development of self-awareness strategies, we may teach teenagers to recognize these short-term negative feelings. Teaching teens mindfulness, meditation and self-soothing techniques supports their ability to cope in a healthy way, when difficult emotions arise.

Looking for Help?

Teenagers are at a high risk of developing an alcohol and/or substance use disorder. Risk levels increase drastically with the addition of depressive symptoms. Understanding and coping with the underlying emotions that are driving alcohol/substance abuse is imperative to end the cycle of self-medication. At Fort Behavioral Health, we understand adolescent addiction and offer a safe and nurturing space to cultivate self-awareness and coping mechanisms supportive of long-term sobriety. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to drugs and alcohol, call us today at 844.332.1807.


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