Someone with depression or mania may use drugs to take away the pain of uncontrollable mood changes associated with Bipolar Disorder (self-medication).
Which came first, the drugs or the mood swings? Too often, I have to figure this out. One child's parents or teachers sent him to see me because he had mood swings, verbal explosions and sleep problems. The drug screen comes back positive for cocaine and marijuana, and the garbage can search reveals empty wine bottles.
He has a problem with drugs and alcohol. He has mood swings. Drugs can cause mood swings. On the other hand, someone with depression or mania may use drugs to take away the pain of uncontrollable mood changes. Figuring out the answer often requires some expert detective work. He needs to open up and give me a detailed, honest history. His family members must also be frank about their own drug and psychiatric histories. No more secrets.
Adolescents may abuse drugs for a variety of reasons. These often include peer group pressure, parental drug and alcohol use, depression or just a desire for a new experience.
No adolescent should use alcohol or illegal drugs. However, there are certain individuals who are at increased risk. These individuals should be cautious even as adults. Some people can drink for quite a while before running into problems. Others have problems after that first drink. If close family members have had problems with drugs or alcohol, you are at increased risk. If you are depressed or already have trouble with mood swings, you are more likely to become addicted, and may have more trouble getting off drugs. There is evidence that drug use may cause an individual with a biological tendency toward bipolar disorder to develop the illness earlier in life. High school is difficult enough; you don't need this too. Talk to a trusted adult and get help early.
About the author: Carol Watkins, M.D. is Board-Certified in Child, Adolescent and Adult Psychiatry and in private practice in Baltimore, MD.