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High-Risk Behaviors and Psychological Disorders in Adolescents


Adolescence is a very difficult period in any child’s life. It can be just as difficult for the parents as well. At this age, the children go through puberty and experience hormonal changes, while at the same time learning to deal with the demands, expectations, and challenges that the society imposes upon them. Parental authority is no longer absolute, and the chances of engaging in high-risk behaviors and falling under bad influence increase exponentially. At this age, adolescents are also prone to all kinds of mental disorders, the most common one being depression. The purpose of this brochure is to educate the parents about the most prominent high-risk behaviors and psychological disorders, that may occur in adolescence.

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Three Most Common High-Risk Behaviors in Adolescence

Three most common high-risk behaviors that tend to appear during adolescence are alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and smoking (Kann, Kinchen, Shanklin, Flint, & Hawkins, 2014). Reasons for taking these substances vary from one adolescent to another. Some indulge in these high-risk behaviors out of defiance, whereas others succumb to peer pressure, especially if a child hangs out with a company where such behaviors are common and considered the norm (Huang et al., 2014). Adult influence plays an important role in both the promotion and the inhibition of dangerous behaviors. Some children like to emulate adults by undertaking their worst habits, and associate drinking and smoking with adulthood. Drug addiction is slightly different in these regards, but is closely tied to peer pressure, as well as drinking. These behaviors are gateways to drug abuse, as they lower inhibition and nurture acceptance towards potentially dangerous substances.

Drug addiction in adolescents rarely happens on its own, since drugs are usually hard to find and require some skill at implementation. Usually, they could be found in larger companies, where at least one member has some experience and knows where to find them (Huang et al., 2014). Typically, the addiction starts with the lighter drugs, such as marijuana, which could be followed by stronger drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, LSD and others. Children from poor families and criminalized neighborhoods are at a greater risk (Chakravarthy, Shah, & Lotfipour, 2013).

Depression in Adolescents

Depression in adolescents is a prevalent psychological disorder that does not receive the proper recognition around the world. At the same time, the percentage of children prone to depression increases exponentially after puberty. According to statistics, the prevalence rate of the disease exceeds 4% (Thapar, Collishaw, Pine, & Thapar, 2012). Girls are more prone to adolescent depression than boys. Depression is a dangerous psychological disorder that may leave long-lasting complications, hamper a child’s personal and social life, lead to dangerous behavior, and even cause death (Reynolds & Johnston, 2013).


  • Pessimistic outlook on life
  • Anger, rage, or apathy
  • Poor performance in school
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Agitation, anxiety
  • Poor appetite
  • Suicidal tendencies

Methods of Diagnosis

There are several methods of identifying depression in an adolescent, which include physical examination, laboratory tests, and psychological tests involving questionnaires. The first two methods allow identifying hormone-induced depression, whereas questionnaires and screening tests are helpful at identifying personality disorders (Reynolds & Johnston, 2013).

Treatment Options

  • Psychotherapy
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
  • Interpersonal Therapy
  • Medication Therapy

Nursing Considerations

Depression is a disease that modern medical science does not completely understand, as the mechanisms of the disease are not fully explained and studied. Thus, treatment methods are not set in stone, and variation is required from one patient to another. Questionnaires and screening tests may provide false information, as the patient may be ashamed or unwilling to answer some of the questions truthfully (Reynolds & Johnston, 2013).

Family and Child Education

Education for the child would involve developing coping strategies for overcoming the symptoms of depression. In addition, the understanding of the disease will allow the child to fight it with knowledge and purpose. Parental education, on the other hand, involves recognizing the symptoms of depression and understanding what could be done on their part to prevent it from developing and getting worse. Parental involvement, care, and understanding are paramount to preventing the child from developing depression and indulging in dangerous behavior (Reynolds & Johnston, 2013).

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Chakravarthy, B., Shah, S., & Lotfipour, S. (2013). Adolescent drug abuse – Awareness & prevention. Indian Journal of Medical Research, 137(6), 1021-1023.

Huang, H.C., Unger, J.B., Soto, D., Fujimoto, K., Pentz, M.A., … Valente, T.W. (2014). Peer influences: The impact of online and offline friendship networks on adolescent smoking and alcohol use. Journal of Adolescent Health, 54(5), 508-514.

Kann, L., Kinchen, S., Shanklin, S.L., Flint, K.H., & Hawkins, J. (2014). Youth risk behavior surveillance – United States, 2013

Reynolds, W.M., & Johnston, H.F. (2013). Handbook of depression in children and adolescents. New York, NY: Springer.

Thapar, A., Collishaw, S., Pine, D.S., & Thapar, A.K. (2012). Depression in adolescence. Lancet, 379(9820), 1056-1067.

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