High School Kids Who Use Weed, Alcohol Face Higher Risks for Suicidal Thoughts

By   |  January 30, 2024

By Dennis Thompson HealthDay Reporter  |  Copyright © 2024 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Jan. 29, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- High school students who smoke, drink or use weed are more likely to be emotionally troubled and have suicidal thoughts, a new study finds.

Teens who turn to nicotine, alcohol or marijuana are more likely to think about suicide, feel depressed or anxious, have psychotic episodes and exhibit inattention or hyperactivity, researchers report Jan. 29 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

For example, thoughts of suicide occurred about five times more often among high schoolers who used substances daily or near-daily, compared with those who didn’t.

Increases in psychiatric symptoms occurred even among teens with relatively low levels of use, the researchers noted.

The results “lend strong support for the notion that screening, prevention, intervention and policy efforts need to comprehensively address targets beyond substance use alone,” such as the mental health impacts of drug use, said lead study author Brenden Tervo-Clemmens, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

“Also, these efforts may not need to necessarily be specific to a given substance, but rather reflect the multifaceted mental health needs of all adolescents who use substances,” Tervo-Clemmens added in a university news release.

For the study, the team analyzed survey results from more than 15,000 high school students in Massachusetts in 2022 and 2023.

“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 used,” said senior study author Randi Schuster, director of school-based research and program development at the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Addiction Medicine.

Researchers found that each of the three substances were associated with an increase in suicidal thoughts, depression and anxiety symptoms, psychotic experiences and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

However, the study could not draw a cause-and-effect relationship between substance use and mental health problems.

It also can’t say in which direction the link travels -- whether teens turn to drugs to self-medicate their psychiatric problems or drugs are the cause of those problems.

Schuster is now heading a follow-up survey that will further explore the relationship and timing of substance use and psychiatric symptoms.

More information

The Cleveland Clinic has more about substance use and mental health.

SOURCE: Massachusetts General Hospital, news release, Jan. 29, 2024