By Wendy Lee Nentwig

The pressure on today’s teens is unprecedented. Social media, online bullying, school shootings, ever-present technology, a global pandemic, and epidemic levels of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide make navigating adolescence more fraught than ever. These very adult issues are causing some very real trauma in our kids.

When you hear the word “trauma,” it may stop you cold. Isn’t trauma what happens to soldiers in combat zones or victims of violent crime? Those are two instances of extreme trauma, but trauma happens to all of us. For kids and teens, it can be the result of neglect or abuse, the loss of a loved one, or a serious illness. But trauma can also come from a parent’s divorce, changing schools, or moving away from friends. As they accumulate, a bunch of little “t” traumas can cause as much disruption as one big trauma.

In middle and high school kids, trauma can lead to the following:

  • Feeling depressed or alone
  • Developing eating disorders and self-harming behaviors
  • Beginning to abuse alcohol or drugs
  • Becoming sexually active

In traumatized youth, reminders of past traumas or losses can trigger a range of emotional and behavioral problems including physiological hyperarousal, hypervigilance, avoidance, numbing, angry outbursts, and substance craving, according to research conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Mental Health Issues on the Rise Among Adolescents

adolescent boy sad

Today’s teens and even younger children are at a higher risk of mental health disorders than ever before. Research shows that 1 in 6 American youth ages 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year. Depression and anxiety rates are skyrocketing, while ADD and ADHD are prevalent, too. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among 10- to 14-year-olds, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

The takeaway for parents is that it’s important to be on the lookout early, since 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 49.4% of children don’t receive the needed treatment or counseling for these disorders, according to the American Medical Association.

Drug Abuse Is a Popular Way to Numb Pain

When dealing with unwanted feelings from trauma or symptoms of an undiagnosed mental health disorder, it’s not uncommon for adolescents to try to numb the pain with drugs or alcohol. Studies show that 2.08 million 12- to 17-year-olds nationwide reported using drugs in the last month. It’s not just happening in high school either. More than 21% of 8th graders surveyed, admitted to trying illicit drugs at least once. And the numbers are on the rise. 8th graders in 2020 are 56.1% more likely than 2017’s 8th graders to have tried amphetamines, according to stats from

When dealing with unwanted feelings from trauma or symptoms of an undiagnosed mental health disorder, it’s not uncommon for adolescents to try to numb the pain with drugs or alcohol.

Alcohol Use is Part of Many Teens’ Lives

Alcohol is by far the most commonly abused substance among teens, with 1.19 million 12- to 17-year-olds reporting binge drinking in the last month. Abuse is happening earlier, too, with 25.6% of 8th graders admitting they have already abused alcohol at least once. While many parents may want to chalk this up to harmless experimentation, 407,000 teenagers aged 12- to 17-years-old met the criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in the last year.

Help for Hurting Teens

While the stats are sobering, there are ways to help your teen. If you find yourself asking, Why isn’t my child succeeding?, you’re not alone. Many parents see their children struggling in different areas, but they aren’t sure what to do. Fortunately, we’re finding new ways all the time to help adolescents gain the tools they need to succeed. At The Meadows Adolescent Center, we use live brain mapping in our on-site Brain Center. Each teen receives a comprehensive NMT assessment and diagnostic workup utilizing the neurosequential model created by Meadows Senior Fellow and New York Times bestselling author Dr. Bruce Perry. This provides a comprehensive roadmap of treatment protocols specific to that teen, and those in the program will continue to receive live brain mapping regularly throughout treatment, allowing TMAC’s clinical team to use that data to maximize every single day of treatment.

“With the work we do in our Brain Center, their nervous system is going to reset, they’re going to calm, and we’re going to get to a place where we can do the work we need to do,” explains Executive Director Mike Gurr.

If a teen you love may need treatment for trauma, mental health, or substance abuse issues, contact our Admissions Team.