Home > Teens > Teen Health and Safety > Eating Disorders > Self-Abuse, Eating Disorders, and Addiction

Self-Abuse, Eating Disorders, and Addiction


Childhood is a time of fun, adventure, and joy, free from the cares of the adult world, a kind of paradise on earth: garbage! Contrary to this idealized view of childhood, the facts are that 10-35% of boys and 15-45% of girls suffer from depression.

Society has a hard time realizing that kids get depressed, and childhood and teen depression is sometimes difficult to diagnose. As a result, only about one-third of all depressed kids get treatment. Here are a few facts and suggestions for parents whose child might be depressed:

  • Kids can't always express their feelings. Your child may not have the skills to let you know that she is depressed. Instead, you'll see it reflected in her behavior.
  • Depression in kids is often confused with attention deficit disorder.
  • Other symptoms of depression may include irritability, rage, and moodiness, sleeping problems, a change in interests (or loss of interests), disruptive behavior, unexplained fears, or a preoccupation with death.
  • Depressed kids often complain of stomachaches, tiredness, and headaches.
  • If depression is untreated, the depressed child is at high risk for drug and alcohol abuse.
  • Depression in kids and teens is often successfully treated with psychotherapy (and in many cases, with drug therapy as well).
  • Bring your child in for a check-up, express your concerns to the doctor, and make sure the doctor rules out physical causes.

Substance Abuse and Addiction

Drug and alcohol use is different from drug and alcohol abuse, and many, many kids experiment with mind-, mood-, or body-altering substances in their teen years. It's one thing to tolerate normal exploration, it's another to ignore a serious problem your child is having.

Drug abuse and addiction is serious and scary, and devastates lives—the life of the abuser, and everybody close to him. Many substance abusers begin their abuse very young, and there is an enormous increase of abuse in teenagers who have parents who are alcoholics or addicts.

If you compare a child whose parents don't abuse alcohol and drugs with a child whose parents (or parent) do, the numbers are shocking. According to Darryl S. Inaba and William E. Cohen (Uppers, Downers, and All Arounders: Physical and Mental Effects of Psychoactive Drugs), a child with one parent who is an alcoholic or an addict is 34% more likely to become an alcoholic or suffer from a drug addiction than a child who doesn't have an alcoholic or addicted parent. If both parents suffer, a child is 400% more likely to have addiction problems. And if the child is male with both an alcoholic or drug addicted father and grandfather, a child is 900% more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs than the male child whose father and grandfather do not abuse alcohol or drugs. Is this nature or nurture? Probably a little bit of both.

This means that if you have substance abuse problems and you don't want your child to follow in your footsteps, you need to take action.

Tales from the Parent Zone

“What do we live in, a country of drunks and druggies?” my friend Paloma asks. “Sometimes it seems like everybody I know is the adult child of an alcoholic, or a drug abuser.” Paloma's exaggerating, but she's not so far off. Twenty-eight million Americans have at least one alcoholic or drug-addicted parent.

It's not just kids of substance abusers who abuse substances, though. When a child or teen is stressed out, use can easily turn into abuse. How can you know when your child is in trouble with drugs or alcohol?

  • It's not always as obvious as your child roaring home stinking of booze, slurring words, and crashing into walls. Those are pretty good signs, though.
  • If your attitude is that “Kids will be kids,” you should still consider that perhaps your kid is being a “kid” a bit too often for her health.
  • Garbage cans full of gin bottles, scary people calling all hours of the day and night, track marks—these are all obvious signs. But most young substance abusers are more devious (or not so far gone) and hide their activities. Look for more subtle clues (like the ones detailed above in “How Do You Know If Your Child Is in Trouble?” above). Troubles can't be compartmentalized (though when we're having them, we often delude ourselves that we can). If your child is abusing or addicted, there are probably other clues.

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Well-Behaved Child © 1999 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


8 Epic Emoji-Themed Crafts, Activities & Recipes
Check out the best emoji crafts, activities, and recipes! They're perfect for an emoji-themed birthday party or anytime you need DIY (and screen-free!) summer activities for kids, tweens, and teens.

Find Today's Newest & Best Children's Books
Looking for newly released books for your child? Try our Book Finder tool to search for new books by age, type, and theme!

10 Free Summer Learning Worksheets
Print these free printables for preschoolers and kindergarteners to help your child's mind stay sharp until September!

Ready for Kindergarten?
Try our award-winning Kindergarten Readiness app! This easy-to-use checklist comes with games and activities to help your child build essential skills for kindergarten. Download the Kindergarten Readiness app today!

stay connected

Sign up for our free email newsletters and receive the latest advice and information on all things parenting.

Enter your email address to sign up or manage your account.

Facebook icon Facebook icon Follow Us on Pinterest

editor’s picks