We see the backs of 4 teens sitting on the edge of a bridge- water in the background. It's gray out, and they seem quiet.

Anxiety is a natural feeling that everyone experiences from time to time. Your child may feel particularly anxious before a test, for example. But when normal activities like going to school or extracurricular activities cause unease and panic, these feelings could signal a more serious anxiety disorder.

Teens suffering from anxiety disorders essentially feel incapable of functioning due to worry and fear. For example, they may start avoiding school and activities, even if they previously enjoyed them. They might also have difficulty concentrating, feel fatigued and irritable, experience trouble sleeping, or have an elevated heart rate, among other symptoms.

The good news is that identifying and treating anxiety early can help prevent future substance use. As a parent, caregiver, or other adult who interacts with the child, it’s important to know and recognize the signs of anxiety and talk to them about possible sources of the anxiety before they turn to drugs and alcohol. This guide to common transitions faced by tweens and teens gives parents tips and techniques for talking to children about healthy ways to cope with life’s inevitable challenges. Our Research & Fact Sheets page contains other detailed guides for talking to kids and teens about substance abuse before it starts.

What if your child has already started to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol? When struggling with anxiety, many teens start to use central nervous system depressants like alcohol that may give them a temporary feeling of calm. This temporary relief is especially dangerous because teens eventually become dependent on the substance to feel “normal,” leading to addiction.

If you suspect your teen might be using drugs or alcohol, Compass Mark’s two-page guide can help you determine what substance(s) your child may be using and confirm when help is needed.

In addition to online resources, Compass Mark works with local schools to educate youth about prevention and healthy personal choices. More support is always available by phone, and Compass Mark’s referral team can by reached at (717) 299-2831.  Compass Mark can provide confidential treatment referrals, guidance on how to have these conversations with a loved one, and more. Even if you don’t suspect substance use, our team can provide insight on building up your child’s protective factors, which helps reduce their risk for engaging in substance use in the future.

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