Drunkorexia (Eating Disorders & Alcohol): What Parents Should Know

Most people have heard of anorexia, but have you heard of “Drunkorexia”?  Though not an official diagnosis, this term refers to food restriction and alcohol consumption.  It has become more prevalent among young adults.  It is especially common in college students that are trying to keep themselves thin.  Parents should be aware of this issue so that they can help their adolescents overcome it so that it does not take over their life.  Catching this early is the key to making a full recovery before it begins to get out of hand.

What Is” Drunkorexia”?

“Drunkorexia” is a combination of excessive alcohol consumption and eating disorder behaviors. Generally, college age students will skip meals during the day in order to keep their weight down and the calories that they save is spent on alcohol.  A new study conducted by the University of Missouri that found girls are much more susceptible to this combination than guys.

People that are “Drunkorexic” will purge the alcohol they consume in the attempt to not gain weight

Double Downsides

The problem that teens and young adults are facing is that “Drunkorexia” causes double downsides.  While inadequate nutrition is something that can cause many health issues, the over consumption of alcohol poses many risks as well.  They will not only reap the physical repercussions of anorexia or bulimia, they will also have issues with alcohol abuse including alcohol poisoning and malnutrition.  While intoxicated, teens and college students are also much more likely to fall victim to physical or sexual abuse.

What to Look For

It is a good idea to educate yourself about this disorder, especially if your college student has a history of eating disorders or drinking.  There are a few signs that you can look for that will help you to recognize Drunkorexia in your adolescent.  Here are a few of these signs:

  • Frequently skipping meals
  • Spending a lot of money but having nothing to show for it
  • Poor grades
  • Poor class attendance
  • Rapid weight loss

The Good News

Most college campuses have recognized that eating disorder behaviors are a wide spread issue and they offer classes on nutrition and healthy living.  They offer many counseling services to students to educate them on the risks involved with both eating disorders and alcohol abuse.

Also, there are counseling programs that will offer help to adolescents that are already sunk into the “Drunkorexic” trap.  Whether you have issues with binge drinking, anorexia, bulimia, or a combination, help is available.  Most adolescents will not admit to themselves that they have a problem.  It often takes the help of a friend or parent to get them the help they need.

Doorways offers many treatment options for those who are dealing with eating and alcohol disorders.  Counseling is typically needed to overcome these disorders and when you choose Doorways as your treatment provider, you will be able to get the help that you need in a faith-based setting.  This is definitely great news for those that are dealing with “Drunkorexia.  “

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Teens

PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, used to be something associated only with war veterans and abuse survivors but it can affect anyone who experiences a traumatic event Even though teens and adolescents may show different symptoms than adults , they can suffer from the same disorder and usually require treatment to overcome the challenges it presents.  Understanding the causes and contributing factors can help parents identify when their children need help and how to get them the help they need.

What is PTSD?

Post traumatic stress disorder describes the development of a set of symptoms following a traumatic experience.  Everyone who is impacted by trauma may feel extreme stress and suffer from strong emotional responses, difficulties with normal activities like sleeping, eating, and concentrating, and anxiety or fear related to the circumstances of the event.  However, not everyone impacted by trauma also develops PTSD.

Those who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder will have symptoms for a month or longer and their symptoms don’t abate with time.  In some cases, symptoms do not start directly following the event and may actually get worse as time passes.

What Causes PTSD?

Experiencing a traumatic event like a car accident, natural disaster, violent crime, or physical assault can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It is not necessary for someone to be injured or even to have directly participated in the event in order to develop PTSD.  In some cases, merely witnessing an event can lead to the disorder.  It is important to note that not everyone who experiences trauma will develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder just like not everyone who has the same experience will respond in the same way.

One theory about why some people develop PTSD has to do with our bodies fight or flight response, the chemical reaction triggered by fear or danger.  This physiological response is meant to enable us to protect ourselves and respond in critical survival situations.  But in some people, a traumatic event disrupts this response, causing the same kind of chemical reaction in circumstances where it isn’t necessarily warranted.  This can lead to feelings of anxiety, severe stress, fear, and danger when there is no external cause of those feelings.

There are some risk factors that can elevate someone’s likelihood of developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  These risk factors include previous experience with traumatic events, a history of mental illness, lack of social support after the event, and being injured as part of the event.    There are also factors that can make someone more resilient and thereby reduce their risk of PTSD including strong post-event support, feeling positive about how they handled the event, and specific coping strategies for dealing with stressful events.

What are the Symptoms of PTSD?

Regardless of when PTSD develops, there are some characteristic symptoms that develop after the experience.  People may experience any combination of these symptoms.

  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Mental images of the event or it’s aftermath
  • Avoidance of people, places, or things that are reminders of the event
  • Unwillingness to talk about the event or discuss what happened
  • Emotional detachment
  • Edginess, irritability, and hyper-vigilance
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Depression and survivor guilt
  • Angry outbursts

While teens and older adolescents may show symptoms similar to adults, they may also act out and become disruptive and destructive.  In young children and some adolescents, PTSD can cause a different set of symptoms including bedwetting, forgetting how to speak, refusing to speak, repeatedly acting out the traumatic event, and having unusual separation anxiety from parents or other adults.

How is PTSD Diagnosed?

PTSD is diagnosed by a doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist based on a personal interview.  In order to be diagnosed, a person must display a certain set of symptoms for at least one month.  The set of symptoms must include one symptom related to re-experiencing the event like nightmares or flashbacks.  They must also be experiencing at least three avoidance symptoms like refusing to talk about the event or to participate in any activity relating to the event.  Additionally, the person must suffer from at least two different symptoms showing hyper-arousal like irritability and edginess.

PTSD is treatable and sufferers can make a complete recovery but it doesn’t generally resolve without assistance.  PTSD is most commonly treated with counseling or therapy and in some circumstances medication to treat underlying depression or other conditions may be used to help mitigate the effects of the disorder.  If you are concerned that your teen or young child may be suffering from PTSD, schedule an appointment with their doctor to rule out any medical causes of their symptoms and get a referral for a qualified practitioner.

Social Phobias: What Parents Need to Know


It isn’t uncommon for children and teens to be anxious about social situations and interactions as they move through the different stages from child to adult.  Given that their bodies are constantly changing, the hormonal effects of puberty, and the rapid succession of milestones these adolescents are going through, it is no wonder that they don’t always feel comfortable and worry about how other people are perceiving them.  But for some adolescents and teens, the common anxiety experienced at these stages can become all encompassing and even debilitating.  These adolescents may develop social phobias,  also referred to as social anxiety disorder.

For teens with the social phobia, social anxiety disorder, the fear of rejection, humiliation, being embarrassed, or having others develop a negative opinion of them becomes excessive.  This makes anything requiring social interaction or that singles out the child a challenge and can lead to avoiding interactions altogether.  Adolescents with social anxiety disorder have difficulty meeting new people, standing up to give a report or solve a problem in front of the class, participating in physical activities and sporting events, and even doing things that seem simple like eating in public.

For parents, it is important to remember that children with social anxiety disorder may respond to situations disproportionately.  In situations where they are not faced with any actual physical danger, they may respond as though they are and experience the same physiological changes like sweaty palms, a racing heart rate, and the activation of their fight or flight reaction.  These can be actual Panic Attacks. Simply telling the teen that they don’t need to be afraid may not alleviate the fear they are experiencing.


An estimate from the National Institute of Mental Health indicates that about 12% of those adolescents who call themselves shy may actually have social phobias.  One of the primary ways to differentiate between typical teenage shyness and social anxiety is that shyness doesn’t generally lead to debilitation or consistent avoidance behavior.  The primary symptoms of social anxiety are:

  • Excessive fear and/or anxiety of any individual or group performance like presenting an oral report or participating in a concert with the school chorus
  • Intense fear of social situations and difficulties with social interactions like meeting new people, unstructured conversations, and talking on the phone
  • Social isolation
  • Inability to actively participate in conversations with peers
  • Excessive concern about how others perceive them and fear related to the negative opinions of others
  • Fear of being humiliated or embarrassed which often leads to anxiety about being called on in class or having to participate in classes like gym or music
  • Panic attacks resulting from social situations or experiences (Physical symptoms  like a racing heart rate, rapid breathing or shortness of breath, feeling nauseous, sweating, or blushing)


There are no specific causes of the social phobia, social anxiety disorder.  Like many other anxiety disorders, it develops as a result of a combination of factors including genetics, environment, and life experiences.  Some people may be genetically predisposed to a certain type of temperament, like being shy.  Factors in the environment have a big influence on our perspective and socially anxious parents or siblings model those behaviors for the children and teens in their lives.  If a child watches a parent continually avoid a specific situation or sees them experience intense fear or anxiety about social interactions, it can reinforce any social anxiety the child is already experiencing.  Life experiences also play a big part in the development of an anxiety disorder.  A teenager who is shy and self-conscious may be more likely to develop social anxiety if he is bullied or ridiculed at school.


Most social anxiety disorder can be effectively treated with cognitive behavioral therapy that seeks to address the sources of the anxiety and teaches other strategies for managing these kinds of fears.  It may also be helpful for adolescents and teens with the condition to participate in group therapy with others in their age group as this can provide a safe environment that enables them to build social skills and practice positive interactions.

Many adolescents and teens with social anxiety may also have another condition.  It is important to the success of treatment to know if there are other co-existing conditions so that they can be treated appropriately.

People with social anxiety can learn to manage their fear and make great strides in participating more fully in their own lives.  Parents can support their adolescents by getting them the right help, offering encouragement, and helping celebrate small successes that will build confidence and self esteem.

Related articles

Substance Abuse in College Students


Statistics about college students and substance abuse are cause for alarm.  According to a report from The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse atColumbiaUniversitypublished in 2007, half of all college students binge drink and/or abuse both prescription and illicit drugs.  One out of every four college students meets the medical criteria for substance dependence which is two and a half times the national average.  When you factor in the long term consequences of these behaviors and the cost of college tuition, many college students are on a very expensive road to nowhere. 

There are severe short term consequences of these behaviors as well.  Researchers estimate that 1,700 college students die each year from unintentional alcohol related causes.  The incidence of acquaintance rape, drunk driving, assault, and other serious criminal acts has been shown to increase significantly when alcohol is present. As many as 80% of all campus arrests are alcohol related. 

Are things getting better or worse? 

There are several studies that have been tracking college age substance use over the last 10-15 years and the findings are not encouraging.  The percentage of college students who drank in the fifteen year period from 1993 to 2005 was relatively stagnant at 70% and the percentage of binge drinkers remained constant at 40%.  And this is the good news.

The first area where a significant increase has been noted is in the number of students who binge drink frequently, rising 16% from 1993 to 2001. Increases were also noted in the number of students who drink more than 10 times a month (25%), those who get drunk three or more times a month (26%), and those who drink with the sole purpose of getting drunk (21%).  This means that although the number of college students who are drinking hasn’t increased, the ones who are drinking are drinking more and drinking more often.

The second area where a significant increase is emerging is in the use and abuse of prescription drugs.  The increases in the use of these substances are so high they almost seem outlandish with increases of 450% in the use of drugs like Xanax and 343% in the use of drugs like Vicodin and Percocet.    Adderall, which is the prescription drug that has gotten the most press for abuse by college students, actually has the lowest percentage increase from 1993 to 2001 at 93%.

The third area where increases tell a disturbing story is in the use of illicit drugs.  In the 15 year time span between 1993 and 2005 the percentage of college students using illicit drugs saw significant increases in all areas.  The use of marijuana on a daily basis more than doubled while the use of all other illicit drugs including cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, ecstasy, and hallucinogens increased by 52%.

It is clear to see that the programs and systems put in place over the last two decades to turn the tide of drug and alcohol abuse by American college students are failing.  This means more college students are suffering the consequences of these risky behaviors.

Who is at the highest risk?

Research from the Monitoring the Future organization indicates that there are some subgroups within the college environment which have a higher incidence of substance abuse and therefore are at a greater risk for developing substance abuse problems.  College students who participate in the Greek system and belong to fraternities or sororities are more likely to abuse substances and participate in risky behavior than their non-Greek peers.  Almost 90% of those students who participate in the Greek system drink alcohol compared to 67% of other students.  Students in the Greek system are also more likely to binge drink, 67% vs. 37%, drink and drive, 33% vs. 21%, and smoke marijuana, 21% vs. 16%.   Another subgroup at a higher risk is incoming freshman, 45% of whom were classified as heavy drinkers in 2001. 

Male college students are more likely than female students to have used any illicit drug in the previous 12 month period and for most of the individual illicit drugs, male students were twice as likely as their female counterparts to have used that drug in the last year.  Male students also use marijuana and alcohol on a daily basis at a rate twice that of female students.  All these statistics indicate that male students are at greater risk of substance abuse problems during their college career.

Other research indicates that there are regional differences in the use of alcohol and all drugs that may put some students at higher risk than others.  Students in the Northeast and West have a higher incidence of illicit drug use across the board.  The use of methamphetamines, crystal meth, and ecstasy is the highest in the Western states.  Alcohol use and abuse, including the highest prevalence of binge drinking, occurs more in the Northeast andMidwest.  

Consequences of Abuse

The consequences of substance abuse by college students can be both significant and severe.  Statistics show that the incidence of criminal activity like assault, vandalism, acquaintance rape, and driving under the influence increases with the use of alcohol or other substances.  In 2001 alone, more than 1700 students died as a result of alcohol related injuries.  The number of students who hurt themselves as a result of drinking went up by 38% between 1993 and 2001.  Arrests on college campuses that were alcohol related increased by more than 20% from 2001 to 2005 and accounted for more than 80% of all campus arrests in 2005.  Almost 100,000 students in 2001 alone were victims of an alcohol related rape or sexual assault and nearly 700,000 were assaulted by another student who was binge drinking.

The academic consequences of these behaviors cannot be understated.   According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) Task Force on College Drinking, one of the main impacts of alcohol use on college campuses is failure to meet academic obligations.  As many as 25% of college students have experienced some academic problem because of their alcohol use including failing tests, skipping classes, falling behind on class work, missing deadlines for papers and projects, and getting lower grades than expected. 

The link between alcohol consumption and grades is so significant it can be used as an indicator.  The findings of a survey conducted over a 3 year period that included almost 100,000 students found that the number of drinks consumed per week directly correlated to the student’s grade point average as follows:

  • Students with A averages consumed 4 drinks per week
  • Students with B averages consumed 6 drinks per week
  • Students with C averages consumed 8 drinks per week
  • Students with D or F averages consumed as many as 10 drinks per week

These findings make it easy to see why there is also a direct relationship between alcohol consumption and college drop-out rates. 

Students who abuse alcohol or other substances are not the only ones impacted by their behavior.  Other students on campus are consistently subjected to circumstances that impact their college experience because of substance abuse by others.  Almost 60% of college students have had to miss sleep or found themselves unable to study because of another student’s drinking or drug use. The safety of students is also compromised by the use of alcohol or drugs by other students.  Almost 30% of students report being insulted or humiliated by another student and 15% have had personal property damaged by someone else’s intoxicated negligence.  These students also find themselves as the victim in many of the crimes mentioned above.

What Makes College Students So Susceptible?

When students make the transition from high school to college, it can be the most challenging experience of their young lives.  The volatility of this time period puts students at risk as they search for new social connections and try to find their place in their new environment.  Additionally, there is this mainstream idea that part of the college experience is drinking, experimenting, and behaving with reckless abandon which leads many students to seek out these experiences as soon as they arrive on campus.  College students are also in the highest risk age group for heavy alcohol consumption and experimentation with the use of multiple substances. 

College students also find themselves dealing with new kinds of stress and pressures that they may be unprepared to handle including financial obligations and responsibility, making major life altering decisions, and separating from parents and other support systems.  Students also look to alcohol and drugs as the means to ensure social acceptance and as tools to create confidence when they are feeling unsure and insecure in their new environment. 

Living arrangements do seem to play a part in determining whether or not a student will use alcohol or other substances.  Students who live at home and commute to college are less likely than those who live in residence halls to abuse alcohol.  However, hovering parents who continually insert themselves into their child’s life can keep college students from achieving the appropriate level of maturity they need in order for them to transition into responsible adults.  Parents who make major decisions for their college age child and regularly rescue them from the consequences of their actions don’t allow them space and opportunity to learn how to make the right decision in difficult situations.

College students are also less likely to seek help, even when they are in very real trouble, because of the social stigma associated with alcohol dependence and drug addiction.


The abundance of research on substance abuse by college students shows that the situation is not improving.  Despite efforts to curb alcohol use and access to illicit drugs on college campuses, the prevailing public attitude that drinking and experimenting with drugs are part of the college experience continues to undermine the ability to make real, lasting changes.  Students are engaging in risky behavior like unprotected sex, driving under the influence, and experimentation with all types of drugs in alarming numbers and many students are paying a steep price for this self-discovery.  As long as it remains socially acceptable and even socially commendable to participate in binge drinking and swap study time for sorority parties, it will be difficult to make the high in higher education mean what it used to mean. 



Generalized Anxiety Disorder: What Parents Need to Know

A teen singing.

Generalized anxiety disorder most commonly affects those between adolescence and middle age. Image via Wikipedia


Everyone worries about things, even children and teenagers.  Whether the worry is over the upcoming history test, getting a date to the prom, or making the soccer team, anxiety is a normal part of everyday life.  However, in some people, normal everyday worries can become excessive and everyday things can cause severe anxiety.  This type of anxiety is called Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and it affects about 3% of the U.S.population each year, including one in eight children.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by exaggerated anxiety and unwarranted worry about everyday problems.  People with this disorder may obsess about the worst case scenario in every situation and are unable to stop their anxiety from spiraling out of control.  Women are two times as likely to have the disorder and it most commonly affects those between adolescence and middle age.

Teens and young adults with the disorder may not do as well in school, may be susceptible to substance abuse problems, and may struggle with social milestones if it is not treated.  However, with the right combination of treatment, support, and assistance, children with GAD can learn to manage their symptoms and successfully navigate their lives.


People with GAD experience consistent, persistent, chronic worry or anxiety about things that do not warrant this level of anxiety for more than 6 months.

One of the key differences between the anxiety everyone experiences and GAD is that everyday anxiety is temporary and GAD is not.  Adults and children with GAD can experience heightened anxiety all day, every day and it can interfere with their normal activities.  It is common for those with GAD to use avoidance as a tool for managing their anxiety.  An adolescent who is experiencing temporary anxiety will respond to comforting words, reassurances, and a list of the reasons they don’t need to be anxious.  The anxiety of a child or teen with GAD will not be soothed by these techniques.

In addition to the chronic nature of the anxious thoughts and feelings someone with GAD experiences, there are also some physical symptoms that are often present with the disorder including:

  • Unexplained fatigue and problems sleeping
  • Restlessness, edginess, and irritability
  • Gastrointestinal problems including  nausea and diarrhea
  • Difficulties concentrating and headaches


Generalized anxiety disorder has no known cause but stress, traumatic events, heredity, and biological factors may contribute to its onset.  It is relatively common and can affect people of all ages.  Although it generally develops gradually over time, many people with the disorder cannot remember a time when they did not experience some level of anxiety.


Many people with GAD respond well to cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, or a combination of both.  Therapy can be beneficial in helping a person with the disorder to identify their triggers and modify their thought patterns and behavior.  Techniques for easing anxiety and promoting relaxation can also be beneficial to those with GAD.

It is very common for people with GAD to have a co-existing disorder.  Depression, substance abuse, and other anxiety disorders are commonly seen in those with the disorder.  Getting diagnosis and treatment for any co-existing conditions is an important part of overall treatment for GAD.

Related articles

Is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Affecting My Teenager?

Person washing his hands

Does your teen struggle with OCD?  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It can be difficult in this age of acronyms to know when your teenager’s behavior is appropriate for their developmental stage of life of when it’s something that a parent should be concerned about.   With anxiety disorders like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), it is even harder to find.  The difference between the two is the impact it has on the child’s daily life.

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that causes those who suffer from it to experience persistent anxiety, fear, or distressing thoughts and/or exhibit a ritualized behavior as a method to control their anxiety.  For example, a child might be so afraid of germs, they wash their hands every 15 minutes.  The obsessive nature of these thoughts and their compulsion to perform the ritual interfere with the teenager’s daily life.

Someone who is afraid of germs may develop a ritual that involves washing their hands a certain number of times at certain points over the course of the day.  A child who is worried about their house burning down may develop a ritual involving checking their smoke alarms and fire extinguishers to ensure they are operating.  It is important to remember that someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder does not believe they can control their compulsions and that these rituals offer only a temporary respite from their anxiety.

People with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, both children and adults, may realize that their behavior is out of the ordinary but this is not always the case in children.   OCD may be accompanied by other conditions including depression and eating disorders and affects the same number of males and females.  In many cases, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder first presents during adolescence or the teen years.

What Causes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a brain disorder.  Research has shown that it does tend to run in families but there is no clear indication of why one person develops the condition and another doesn’t.  But the truth is clear, that OCD is no one’s fault, and especially does not occur because of something a parent did, or did not do.

What are the Symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

A person suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder will display many of the following symptoms:

  • Repetitive thoughts that are distressing or cause anxiety about several different things.  Common obsessive topics include germs, dirt, crime, sexual acts, cleanliness, violence, or hurting others.
  • Ritual behavior patterns associated with their obsessions that they complete over and over to alleviate the anxiety.  Rituals can involve actions like repetitive hand washing, locking and unlocking doors or windows, counting, and performing things in a specific way again and again.
  • Performing rituals can be distressing and are not a source of comfort or pleasure although they do alleviate feelings of anxiety temporarily.
  • Obsessive thoughts and rituals occupy at least one hour a day and impact the person’s daily life.

Symptoms may come and go over time and it is not uncommon for people suffering from OCD to use avoidance techniques to try and keep their anxiety from being triggered.

How is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Diagnosed?

As with many mental health conditions, start with your medical provider who can rule out any physical conditions that may be contributing or causing the symptoms.  This doctor can refer you to a mental health practitioner for diagnosis and treatment.

How is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Treated?

Traditional treatment for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder involves both medication and exposure therapy.  This type of therapy is often combined with cognitive behavioral therapy to provide desensitization and alternative coping strategies.  Recent research supported by the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute of Mental Health shows that children and teens respond most effectively to treatment with antidepressants in conjunction with therapy.

If you are concerned that your child or teen is experiencing obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, work with a professional who can assess your child’s behavior and advise you on the appropriate course of action.

Cutting and Self Harm- What Parents Need to Know


Self-harm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On a good day, it can be difficult for parents to understand their teenagers.  The teen years can be a mix of intense emotions, physical changes, peer pressure, and hormonal overload that can leave teens feeling like visitors in their own bodies.  Lacking the emotional maturity and coping skills to deal with this onslaught, some teens turn to cutting and other destructive behaviors for relief.  For parents everywhere, this terrifying trend is impossible to understand.  To help, here are the basics.

What is Self Harm?

Any behavior that involves deliberately inflicting injury on your own body is considered self harm.  This includes behaviors like cutting, head banging, and burning.  Teenagers use these behaviors as coping strategies to deal with intense emotions that they don’t know how to handle.  It is important for parents to understand that self harm behaviors are not suicide attempts, although they can be a cry for help.

Common forms of self harm include severe scratching, cutting, poisoning, carving into skin, hitting, piercing the skin, biting, and burning.  It is common for people who self harm to use more than one method to cause injury.  The most common locations for self injury are those that are easily reached including legs, arms, and the front of the body.

Why Do Teens Hurt Themselves?

For some teens, self harm provides a respite of some sort.  It may be an outlet for intense emotional turmoil or it could offer a release of mounting tension.  In some teens it even brings a sense of calm and quiet.

Self harm can also be an expression of control in a world that feels completely of control or a distraction from emotional pain.  Teens may use self harm as a way to release emotions, to give their internal feelings an external representation.  In some cases, self harm is a cry for help, while in others it is simply a way to attract attention and manipulate other people.

What Causes it

There is no specific condition that causes teens to self harm.  While teens are the most prevalent sufferers, people of all ages may use self injury as a mechanism for dealing with difficult emotions. Self harm can also manifest in people who are suffering from mental illnesses like depression or eating disorders.

There are, however, some risk factors that can increase the likelihood of a teenager turning to self harm as an emotional outlet.  These factors are:

  • Age – Teenagers in the highest risk age group
  • Mental Health – People who struggle to manage negative emotions, have difficulty with impulse control, and who suffer from specific mental illnesses are more prone to self harm.
  • Life Experiences – Teens who suffered abuse, neglect, or loss during their childhood are more likely than their peers to self harm.

What to Watch For

Most teens that self harm are secretive about their struggle because they are confused and ashamed by their own behavior.  Signs to watch out for are scars, cuts, scratches, wounds, burns, and broken bones.  Teens who wear long sleeves and pants in summer or claim clumsiness as the reason for their injuries may be trying to hide their self injuries.

How to Get Help

If you have a child that is harming themself, consult your medical practitioner and request an evaluation.  These professionals can help guide you in raising the issue with your child and getting them the help they need.  Psychotherapy is the most common treatment for self harm which may include individual counseling for your teen and family group.

Helping your Teen Athlete Eat Healthy

Everyone knows that teenagers often have bigger appetites because of their rapid growth.  Teen athletes, who can burn through as many as 5,000 calories a day, need even more food than their peers.  If they don’t get enough calories it affects their energy level and can impact their athletic performance.  In some cases, insufficient calories may even cause problems with their overall growth.  But it isn’t enough for teen athletes to eat enough calories; it is also important that they are taking in the right mix of nutrients and have a relatively balanced diet.


Parents can help support the nutritional needs of their teen athletes by starting each day with a healthy breakfast.  Have carbohydrate and protein filled choices such as whole grain bagels, peanut butter, eggs, yogurt and oatmeal available for a quick and healthy breakfast at home or on the go.


Everyone needs to eat a balanced diet but for teen athletes this is even more important. Their bodies are still growing which means they need the right mix of nutrients to support that growth while also providing the building blocks to boost performance and repair minor injuries.  According to KidsHealth.org, a teen athlete’s diet should be 60-65% carbohydrates, 12-15% protein, and 20-30% healthy fats.  Each of these three is equally important to your teen athlete’s development and performance.  Carbohydrates provide the main fuel source for their body, while protein helps build muscle.  Fats like those found in avocados and fish are critical to athletic performance because they provide the fuel for sustained energy.


Teen athlete’s need to pay particular attention to their water intake and be diligent about keeping themselves hydrated.  Drinking water throughout the day as well as before, during, and after physical exertion is the best way to maintain the optimal level of hydration in the body.  When teen athletes become dehydrated, they may feel more tired, have less energy, and be less able to perform as expected on the field.


While there is no set amount of calories that all teen athletes need each day, the requirements are higher for teens that are active in sports or other physical activities.  On average, teen athletes may need 2,000 calories more per day than their less athletic friends.  The actual number is dependent on the person however and varies based on weight, sport, and age.  The best way to determine the right amount of calories for your teen athlete is to work with a registered dietitian.


One of the best ways to help teen athletes get the balanced diet and number of calories they need is to ensure they have healthy, energy boosting snacks available throughout the day.  If your teen has practice directly after school they may be hitting their worst energy slump of the day just as practice is starting.  Depending on what time lunch period is, it may have been 3 or more hours since their last meal and by the time practice is over, they may have gone for seven or more hours without anything substantial to eat.  Pack snacks in their sports bag for before and after practice to ensure they have the energy to power through.   Healthy and energy-boosting snack choices include nuts, dried fruits and fresh fruits and vegetables.

By Rachel Daberkow, MS. RD.





How Do You Know Your Teenager is on Drugs?

As a counselor who works with teens and parents, this is one of the most common questions I am asked. Parents often struggle with this issue because the natural mood swings and personality changes that are a part of the teen years can make it difficult to determine if their child is acting normal or needs help. They are also hesitant to ask difficult questions because they don’t want to damage their relationship with their teen by accusing them of taking drugs.  Maintaining a relationship built on trust can be an important part of successfully navigating the teenage years and it only takes one misstep to demolish the foundation of that trust. Parents may be hesitant to approach their teens when they are concerned because they don’t want to alienate them or push them further away.

In order to know when to be concerned, when to ask questions, and when to intervene, you need to know the facts. Here are the common signs of teenage drug use.

1. Changes in Social Circles
One sign that parents should be watching for is a significant change in their child’s friends or social circles. If your teenager has been friends with the same kids since elementary school and suddenly shifts to an entirely different set of friends, this may be cause for concern. First, look for other factors like joining a new club, or playing on a sports team that may explain an influx of new friends. Changes in social circles or standing by themselves are not always indicative of drug use, but parents should pay attention to these types of changes as they can point toward several teenage problems.

2. Changes in School Participation
Another thing to watch for is the development of a negative attitude about school in general. This includes spending less time and effort on school work and home work, skipping classes, and grades that are going down.

3. Changes in Personality
When teenagers begin using drugs, they often become more secretive and are touchier about privacy and having their own space. Signs of these behavior changes include getting angry if you are in their room, unwillingness to let you borrow their cell phone, refusing to leave their backpacks or school bags where others could access them, or offering vague answers about where they are going and who they are spending their time with.

4. Changes in Aromatic Usage
If your teen suddenly develops the need to burn incense or use room deodorizer on a regular basis, but doesn’t seem more concerned with cleaning their room, they may be trying to hide the smell of smoke or other odors. Intensified use of body spray or perfume is also a sign that something may be amiss.

5. Changes in Financial Needs
One indication that your teen may be using drugs is an increased need for money. This may be evident because of an increase in their requests to borrow money, offers to work around the house for cash, or money disappearing from purses and wallets. Teens that become suddenly invested in selling or pawning things like video games and other electronics may also have a problem that needs parental attention.

Parents and their involvement in their teenager’s lives are still the best deterrent to drug use. Providing a supportive environment with clear expectations helps set the stage for drug-free teen years. But it is equally important to know the signs that your teen is in trouble and how to help them through whatever problems they are facing.


by Jan Hamilton, MS, PMHNP-BC
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner