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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    August 6, 2015 at 8:23 PM

    I meant son not sin in my previous post…

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    August 6, 2015 at 8:12 PM

    It is so hard to watch your child go down this path. My son is 26 years old and is a heroin addict & suffers from social anxiety and bipolar. The Mental Health Clinic will not treat him because of drugs. With them, it is the age old question, is he mentally ill because of the drugs or is self- medicating because of mental illness?? He has no insurance. He has been to the ER for several drug overdoses. I recently asked him & his girlfriend to stop contacting me so often due to the stress of them constantly begging for money. It is SO hard!! I don’t know how to not be around him. I don’t know how to be around him. I love him so much, but I have not seen my real sin in years. I feel like we are both dying from this addiction!

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    June 17, 2015 at 3:21 PM

    I wish I had found this site last year. My daughter died of a heroin overdose
    in April, 2014. I relive that day every morning and it is my last thoughts every
    evening. I cry in the shower every day. I blame myself for being stupid.
    She was bipolar and under a psychiatrist and therapist care. I thought that
    that was the answer. I did not know anything that would help her. When
    she was in crisis – we got her into a program that she hated. She convinced
    me that she was not using any more. But I should have known better.
    I knew she lied to me. I know that she stole from me. I thought the money was
    going to friends. She did not appear to be using for the last two months of
    her life. She saw a Christian councelor and had an appointment for the following
    Monday. She died on Sunday. Take care of your children til the end. Do
    not give up on them. The alternative changes your life forever. You define
    your life forever as the parent that could not save their child.
    I do not live well with this fact. I spent 10 months just existing on the couch
    and going to work. I have no feelings left.

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    June 10, 2015 at 10:24 AM

    Wish I had gotten into this site before. My “teen” niece is 32 and an addict. After she lived with me for 9 months I convinced her to see a psychiatrist for ADHD or Bipolar which run in our family. She agreed, got treatment and then the Dr. and I talked to her about rehab and she agreed. It is working! The combination of legal medication and rehab helped her to see how her life could be and is suppose to be. She is a drug addict and alcoholic, liar, thief, and fake; but I love her. She has used since she was 16 and no one noticed. Before the treatment, her outlook was “If I hadn’t gotten caught, no one would have known”. No regret or anything. She went into rehab with the plan to “Tell them what they want to hear and get out”. That SEEMS to have changed but I have been lied to too many times to trust her right now. Her grandmother, her father and I are the only ones who haven’t given up on her. I think her mother blames herself for some reason. Her sister has previous trust and conflict issues with her.

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    Greg Hayes

    May 21, 2015 at 6:21 PM

    Good information. We need more conversation on this issue.

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