Addressing the Issue of Adolescent Drug Abuse and Mental Health Conditions
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Adolescent drug abuse and mental health conditions go hand in hand for many teens. Statistics show that 30% to 45% of adolescents and young adults with mental health disorders have a co-occurring substance use disorder. 1 When teens find themselves in this situation, they must address both issues simultaneously to have the best success rate in treatment and recovery.

We’re going to take a closer look at the link between teen drug abuse and mental health conditions and how they can both be treated to achieve the best results.

The Link Between Adolescent Drug Abuse and Mental Health

Teens are no different than adults in that they look for ways to comfort themselves if they feel sad or stressed. For many, this comes in the form of drugs and alcohol. Teens turn to substances to help them deal with hopelessness, anxiety, irritability, and negative thoughts. But, using drugs is just a quick fix to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression because they impact the same areas of the brain as mental health disorders. Teens end up feeling worse when they’re not using. 2

It can also be common for children with mental health issues to suffer from low self-esteem. When this happens, they may feel pressured to try drugs to fit in with a crowd that begins experimenting. While they may be trying to feel like one of the crowd, they can develop a drug problem over time. Substance use can escalate from experimentation to a serious problem more quickly in kids also dealing with mental health disorders. 2

When teens with mental health disorders use drugs, it can undermine the effectiveness of any medication they may be taking. The illegal substances and prescription medications target the same parts of the brain. 2 When this happens, it may lower the effectiveness of the prescribed medicine, making the mental health conditions worse. If this occurs, teens may turn to drugs more frequently to deal with their feelings and emotions, thus creating a vicious cycle.

Common Co-Occurring Mental Health Conditions

There are several common co-occurring mental health conditions that teens with a substance abuse disorder may be dealing with. These include 3:

Some teens develop one of these conditions, leading to a substance abuse problem or vice versa.

Screening for Mental Health Conditions and Substance Abuse

Co-occurring disorders involving the above mentioned conditions are diagnosed through screening and multi-level assessments. These evaluations will look at:

  • Physical and mental health history
  • History of substance abuse
  • Previous substance abuse treatment

Screening adolescents is necessary to ensure a proper diagnosis is given so that the right treatment can be given.

Treating Adolescent Drug Abuse & Mental Health Conditions Simultaneously

Treating adolescent drug abuse and mental health simultaneously is vital because both conditions significantly impact the other. Teens with a dual diagnosis of a mental health condition and substance abuse disorder are more prone to relapse. Dual diagnosis treatment is a better option because when treated together, the symptoms of both can decrease significantly.

Some treatment options may include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Teens

This type of therapy can help teens identify and change behaviors relating to substance abuse. It can be used to identify triggers and help teens focus on present problems rather than past mistakes. Teens can learn to relax and apply what they’re learning in therapy to their real-life situations.


Systems Training for Emotional Predictability and Problem Solving (STEPPS) is an evidence-based program for individuals who struggle to regulate their emotions.  Teens learn healthy coping skills to effectively manage their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Medication Management

Medication may be prescribed for one or more of the conditions being treated. Some prescribed drugs can help deal with the symptoms of both dual diagnosis conditions.

Teen Addiction Support Groups

Teen addiction support groups can be very beneficial because they provide the emotional and social connections needed to get sober and prevent relapse. Finding support groups with peers who have gone through similar situations can provide teens with the help they need. They can also provide information on how teens can manage everyday challenges healthily rather than turn to drugs.

Teen Addiction Recovery and Relapse Prevention

There are many strategies that teens can use to help them stay on the path to recovery and prevent relapse when dealing with adolescent drug abuse and mental health conditions. These can include:

Having an ongoing support network

When teens know they have an ongoing support network, they may be less likely to turn to drugs. Knowing they have someone to talk to when times get tough or when they’re facing temptation can make a massive difference in the risk of relapse.

Developing coping skills

Teens who can develop coping skills and know how to deal with temptation when it arises will also decrease their chance of relapse.

Lifestyle changes

Many teens may need to make lifestyle changes to help them stay on the path of recovery. This can include making friends who don’t use drugs and finding new hobbies. Doing this can help teens stay away from drugs and avoid symptoms of depression and other mental health disorders.

Seeking Treatment at Ember Recovery

At Ember Recovery, we know how important it is to treat adolescent drug abuse and mental health conditions. This is why we offer dual diagnosis treatment. This type of treatment monitors a teen’s physical and mental health 24/7.

At Ember Recovery, our program includes:

  • A thorough mental health evaluation and substance use history
  • Counseling
  • Medication when necessary
  • Support and family education
  • Follow-up support programs once the inpatient program is complete.

Our program helps teens move forward and stay sober while dealing with their mental health issues. Contact us today to learn more.