Youth and Mental Health 101

Mental health challenges in youth

Substance use

young male lying down


What is substance use?

Some people will experiment with substances such as alcohol, cannabis, opioids Click for more information (e.g., heroin, oxycodone, painkillers) and stimulants (e.g., methamphetamines, cocaine), among others. All of these substances affect the brain.

Peer pressure and media influence can contribute to the development of substance use problems. For some people, substance use can escalate into a bigger issue that is harder to manage. This is usually the result of different factors in a person’s environment. For instance, someone may begin self-medicating with alcohol or other drugs to cope with stressful life events and emotions.2


How substance use might affect you

You may experiment with substances without experiencing harmful effects and without it developing into a bigger problem. If you’re thinking about experimenting with substances, try to be around someone who will take care of you if anything happens and notice how you react once you’ve taken the substance. It is also important to be aware of whether your substance use is becoming a problem.3

There may be some negative side effects and risks with any amount of substance use, including problems in relationships, health, school and work, as well as injuries as a result of using substances and driving.4



    The substance most commonly used by high school students is alcohol (43 per cent of students report drinking in the past year), followed by high-caffeine energy drinks (34 per cent of students report consuming these in the past year), cannabis (19 per cent of students report smoking cannabis in the past year) and painkillers (11 per cent of students reported taking opioids in the past year).5

Alcohol use by students


    People also tend to increase their substance use each year they’re in high school.6

Substance use increases



1. CAMH, 2018c

2. CAMH, 2011

3. CAMH, 2011

4. CAMH, 2011

5. CAMH, 2017a

6. CAMH, 2017a

Youth and Mental Health 101 © , CAMH.