Adolescents are inherently programmed to make decisions and react from an emotional standpoint, not a rational standpoint. With an underdeveloped pre-frontal cortex (area of the brain that reigns rational thought, impulse control, executive planning, etc.) teenagers are forced to rely on the amygdala (the area of the brain associated with impulses, emotions, aggression, instinctive behavior, and plays a role in sexual activity and libido) to process internal and external stimuli. There is a significant connection between emotional dysregulation and teen substance abuse. Emotional dysregulation is a term used within the mental health field to denote irrational, poorly modulated emotional responses, which is highly common among adolescents.
Teenagers enter adolescence with the emotional coping mechanisms discovered in pre-adolescent years. These methods are often quickly found to be ineffective, leaving teens with few, if any, useful emotional navigation tools. Teens who suffer from emotional dysregulation have an added layer of difficulty and often struggle to cope with their emotions in healthy and productive ways. Instead, their overwhelming emotions may lead them to turn to drugs or alcohol, as a form of self-medication. They may use these substances as a means of mood modification to numb or escape from distressing emotions.
While substance use may provide short-term relief from emotional pain, it can also impair judgment and decision-making, which can increase the severity and frequency of emotional crises and perpetuate the cycle of abuse. Research has found that deficits in emotional regulation can increase a person’s risk of developing a substance use disorder (SUD). One study exploring the effects of adolescents with poor self-control associated with emotional dysregulation, concluded that those with emotional dysregulation developed substance dependence in adulthood at a higher rate than their peers. Teens struggling with emotional dysregulation often have trouble forming and maintaining relationships which can lead to social isolation. Teenagers who feel lonely or isolated may turn to substances to self-soothe or connect with others who share similar behaviors. It has been long-established that substance abuse can exacerbate underlying mental health issues, including emotional dysregulation.
For Information and Support
Every family in need of mental health treatment must select a program that will best suit the needs of their family. When one member of a family struggles, it impacts everyone in the family unit. To maximize the benefits of treatment we work closely with the entire family to ensure that everyone is receiving the support they need through these difficult times.
Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life, long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.
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