What If Your Teen Uses Drugs AND Has Anxiety, ADHD or Bipolar Disorder?

teen substance use and co-occurring disorders

Many teens suffer from depression, anxiety, 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. Because of this, parents with children with psychiatric conditions should be vigilant about the possibility of their teen using 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 abuse 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 or she has “co-occurring disorders,” also known as a “dual diagnosis.” When a child has co-occurring disorders, they should be treated for each of the diagnoses. Treating alcohol or other drug abuse 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. Or find a treatment program that can make referrals to services to help treat your child’s mental disorder, while simultaneously getting treatment for alcohol or other drug use and dependence. Make sure to ask treatment providers whether their program is equipped to handle this.

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 or she needs help treating all illnesses. Take care to ensure that all of your son’s or daughter’s needs are met.

Download Your Co-Occurring Disorder Guide

This collaboration between Child Mind Institute and Center on Addiction can help you determine if your child is struggling with a mental health disorder as well as a substance use disorder, and what to do about it.

17 Responses

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    December 13, 2018 at 8:13 PM

    I have a friend’s son who is being told (Dr.) he is manic depressive. He is delusional, not making good choices, getting tattoos, piercings, and now vaping. This all appeared to come on suddenly. His parents are beside themselves. He is also delusional and paranoid. I think its drugs. Is there a way of telling its drugs and not the mania and depression mental disorder without a drug test?

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      Josie Feliz

      December 18, 2018 at 11:29 AM

      Thanks for your message. We have forwarded your message to one of our helpline specialists who can help better answer your question, and she will be reaching out to you shortly.

      Our Helpline is a good place to start if you’d like to talk to someone about what you’re going through. Feel free to connect with us in whichever manner you choose in the future: https://drugfree.org/helpline.

      Thank you. -The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

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    Gail Craft

    October 28, 2018 at 3:08 PM

    My son has been to numerous facilities and the last one we told them he needs MENTAL evaluation They said they did this. Well he was there for 2 weeks and they did nothing of an evaluation. We are still searching NOW for a reputable place to handle the mental aspect of why the drug is being used. My son has severe anxiety borderline personality disorder and possible bipolar

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      Josie Feliz

      October 29, 2018 at 1:59 PM

      Thanks for your message Gail. We have forwarded your message to one of our helpline specialists who can help better answer your question, and she will be reaching out to you shortly.

      Our Helpline is a good place to start if you’d like to talk to someone about what you’re going through. Feel free to connect with us in whichever manner you choose in the future: https://drugfree.org/helpline.

      Thank you. -The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

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    February 27, 2018 at 5:18 PM

    Hi there, thanks for the great article. I have
    a question I’m hoping you might be able to answer.
    I was wondering, What is the difference between anxiety disorder and paranoia.

    I have bad fits of paranoia sometimes and I’m thinking I might look into anxiety medication. I would appreciate any
    insight you can provide.

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      Candice Besson

      February 28, 2018 at 1:56 PM

      Anxiety is a more of a sense of worry about topics, events, or activities. In adults, the worry can be about job responsibilities or performance, one’s own health or the health of family members, financial matters, and other every day, typical life circumstances. In children, the worry is more likely to be about their abilities or the quality of their performance (for example, in school). The worry is experienced as very challenging to control and may be pervasive throughout the day when you’re not engaged in tasks or cause you to have sleep problems.

      Paranoia, on the other hand, is when a person experiences pervasive mistrust of others, and a profoundly cynical view of others and the world. Persons with paranoia can be hypervigilant to physical, verbal or social attacks, and do not trust others.

      The best bet is to talk to a psychiatrist about your symptoms and have him or her determine the best course of medication.

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    March 6, 2016 at 9:14 AM

    This is my 16 yr old daughter. I dont even know where to begin. she is the youngest of my four children and after a suicide attempt at 14 was diagnosed as add and depression. two weeks into her first year in high school she came home and said she had had enough of the continued bullying and rejection from the girls she knew from elementary school, and the next day proceeded to jump into the drug world where the kids accepted her. She spiraled out of control very quickly and long story short she is now in her second year to attempt completing grade 9. she is intellectually very smart and if she applied herself totally would be able to ace a scholarship and really make something of her life. But she is totally focused on her social life. she now has a boyfriend who is up on charges for drug trafficking and he is her life pretty much. Anything I say is just an attempt at making her life impossible. She is in and out of the court room on charges as well. It is so hearbreaking. I cannot make her take her medication. she only admits to marijuana use but i know at times she does cocaine. There are so many professional people in her life and yet I cannot get them to see she needs to be in the psychiatric ward we have here for youth, and she needs inhouse drug treatment. she cuts herself and I have taken her to emergency in hope they would place her in the psychiatric ward (the times i took her were when she had a knife and was threatening suicide) yet they send her back home. I am told by the addictions counsellor to back off, she needs to hit rock bottom. That is so insane!!!! I feel she is in danger as her eating habits have been that of an anorexic. she is so skinny and unhealthy looking and cannot force more than 2 mouthfulls of food in her mouth. I have told all my concerns to her psychiatrist but I simply do not get the help for my daughter i know she needs!!!!!!!! My daughter’s father was bipolar and he really struggled hard with it. He lost the battle when he was killed running on the highway here when my daughter was 3.

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      October 8, 2017 at 10:33 AM

      Hi Edna,
      I just came across your post and wanted to check in to see how your daughter is doing. I know how difficult it is to navigate the treatment system and get the kind of help you need, especially if your child has co-occurring disorders.

      It sounds like it might be helpful to look for a different substance use disorder counselor who can help your daughter, as you are right – rock bottom is not good health care. Generally, when someone is engaged in the kind of behaviors you’ve described a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy program can be helpful. You might consider asking the mental health professionals you are working with who in the community provides this kind of help.

      If you need assistance, please call 1-855-DRUGFREE and speak with one of our parent specialists. There is no charge for this service and the people who staff the helpline are warm, compassionate and knowledgeable.

      Wishing you and your daughter the best,

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