High School Students Who Report Using Alcohol, Cannabis or Nicotine at Higher Risk for Suicidal Thoughts and Other Mental Health Disorders
High school students who reported using cannabis, alcohol or nicotine were more likely to have thoughts about suicide, feel depressed or anxious, have unusual experiences, and exhibit inattention or hyperactivity, according to a recent survey-based study conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.
The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, included 2022–2023 survey results from more than 15,000 high school students across Massachusetts and an additional independent sample of 17,000 high school students across the United States.
“Our study’s results highlight the prevalence of psychiatric co-morbidities among young people who use substances, and they lend strong support for the notion that screening, prevention, intervention and policy efforts need to comprehensively address targets beyond substance use alone,” said lead author Brenden Tervo-Clemmens, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School and the Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain. “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.”
The research team found that alcohol, cannabis and nicotine use were each associated with an increased prevalence of suicidal thoughts as well as depression/anxiety symptoms, psychotic experiences, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms.
For example, thoughts of suicide were approximately five times more prevalent among high school students who used substances daily or near daily compared with those who did not. Increases in psychiatric symptoms were detected even among adolescents with relatively low levels of use.
Future research will examine surveys of individual students over time to provide additional insights into the relationship and timing of substance use and psychiatric symptoms, which could help investigators develop interventions to better safeguard adolescents’ mental health.
This work was funded by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the American Psychological Foundation.