Discussing Teen Substance Use During Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. While mental health issues are important to address year round, highlighting these issues during May provides an opportunity to educate families about psychological disorders, reduce the stigma that surrounds mental illness, and recognize the tens of millions of Americans affected by mental health disorders.

Many teens suffer from depression, anxiety, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder or some other mental illness. This puts them more at risk for developing a drug or alcohol problem.

Although not all teens with these disorders will develop a substance use problem, the chances are higher when they have difficulty regulating their thoughts and emotions. Therefore, parents with children with psychiatric conditions should be vigilant about the possibility of their teen using substances, like drugs or alcohol.

Unfortunately, many teens with a mental health disorder turn to alcohol or other drugs to self-medicate. In fact, the majority of adolescents and young adults battling substance use and dependence may have an undiagnosed, untreated mental illness.

When a child gets diagnosed with a mental health disorder, in addition to alcohol or drug use and dependence, he/she has “co-occurring disorders,” also known as a “dual diagnosis” or “co-morbidity.” When a child has co-occurring disorders, treatment should be involved for each of the diagnoses.

Treating alcohol or other substance use and dependence/addiction alone does not help underlying mental disorders, and similarly, treating a depressive disorder alone will not treat addiction.

About half of Americans will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health disorder sometime in their life, with first onset usually in childhood or adolescence.

If your child has been diagnosed with co-occurring disorders, you should find him a treatment program that specializes in treating dual disorders, can make referrals to services to help treat your child’s mental disorder, while simultaneously getting treatment for alcohol or other substance use and dependence. Make sure to ask treatment providers whether their program is equipped to handle this.

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If the treatment provider is unable to treat both the substance use disorder and the mental illness simultaneously, the treatment services should be integrated with the substance use disorder treatment provider and the mental illness treatment provider coordinating services and care.

When a child has co-occurring disorders, he/she needs help treating all illnesses.

If you’re looking for a drug and alcohol treatment program for your teen or young adult, be sure to know what to ask. Download Questions to Ask and our Treatment eBook.


Originally published at drugfree.org.

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