How Childhood Mental Health Treatment May Reduce Risk For Addiction In Adulthood

Dr. Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS


Millions of children and teenagers in the United States live with mental illness, yet anywhere from one-quarter to 42 percent report not receiving mental health treatment.

Getting help for a mental disorder, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or depression, as a teenager may help prevent the development of severe health conditions, including drug or alcohol problems in adulthood.

That’s the finding of a new study from the Massachusetts General Hospital, published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology.

The study specifically looked at the risk of developing substance use disorder in children and teenagers who take prescribed medication for the treatment of ADHD, psychotic disorders, and major depression.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mental health issues are one of several risk factors for high-risk substance use in teens.

But, if a child or teenager gets help for a mental health issue early, that could help prevent substance misuse or self-medication down the line. 

How Can Mental Health Treatment For Teens Help Prevent Substance Abuse?

Mental health disorders, such as depression, eating disorders, and anxiety, are common among people with substance use disorders and vice versa.

In fact, the two types of disorders co-occur so often that they have been commonly termed a ‘dual diagnosis’ or ‘co-occurring disorders.’

Why? Addictive substances can sometimes be used to self-medicate, to escape, or as a way to cope with mental illness or its effects on a person’s life.

Studies show that mental health disorders often develop in adolescence or young adulthood.

Similarly, many people who live with a SUD as adults report initiating their drug or alcohol abuse at an early age, before they reach adulthood.

What Are The Risk Factors For Teen Drug Abuse?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are a number of factors that can place American youth at greater risk for substance abuse problems.

A child or teen may be at greater risk for substance abuse if they:

  • live in a troubled family environment
  • have poor parental monitoring
  • experience family rejection of gender identity or sexual orientation
  • have a family history of substance abuse (e.g. parents who abuse drugs)
  • have a history of trauma (e.g. childhood sexual abuse)
  • have low academic performance
  • lack strong, healthy social connections
  • associated with peers who misuse drugs/alcohol
  • have mental health issues

Early diagnosis and intervention strategies, however, can help prevent troubles with teen drug or alcohol use, and/or reduce harms associated with substance abuse.

How Early Intervention Helps Prevent Childhood Drug Abuse

Early intervention is a preventative strategy that serves to identify and protect youth at risk for substance misuse from developing substance use disorder.

What this might look like:

  • individual or group counseling
  • behavioral therapy
  • peer support groups
  • mental health/drug education
  • medication for a mental health disorder

The goals of early intervention strategies are to reduce harms of substance misuse, improve health, improve social function, and prevent addiction.

What Are The Benefits Of Early Intervention?

Early intervention for mental health or substance use can help prevent an issue from getting worse, or help to effectively manage symptoms of a long-term condition.

Some people turn to drugs or alcohol when they are in distress. That can, in part, explain the link between mental health and co-occurring substance use.

What access to effective mental health treatments can do for teens:

  • connect them with supportive resources
  • help them learn emotion regulation skills
  • teach them healthy coping skills 
  • improve communication skills 
  • improve social functioning 
  • inform them of the risks and dangers of substance abuse

Can Taking Prescription Drugs Increase The Risk Of Substance Abuse?

When taken in ways other than as directed, prescription drugs like Adderall and Xanax can be misused and, in some cases, can lead to addiction.

This is true with people of all ages, not just children and teens.

Still, the latest study did not find that children who take ADHD medication, or take medication for depression, are at an increased risk for SUD. 

However, parents concerned about their child taking medication, or developing a SUD, can remain vigilant by looking out for signs of a drug or drinking problem.

What Are Signs Of Teen Prescription Drug Abuse?

Prescription drug abuse is any use of a medication that is not explicitly instructed by a family doctor, psychiatrist, or another legal prescriber.

This is also known as the nonmedical use of a medication.

Signs of prescription drug abuse in teens might include:

  • taking higher doses of a medication than prescribed
  • taking doses more often than prescribed
  • crushing and snorting pills
  • running out of prescriptions early
  • taking a family member’s medication

With early intervention, long-term struggles with drug or alcohol use can be prevented. 

This begins with identifying a problem, or consulting a doctor to screen a child at risk for substance use or mental health disorders early.

Finding Mental Health And Addiction Treatment For Teens

Addiction and mental health disorders in teens and young adults can be effectively treated with the right inpatient or outpatient treatment program, such as the ones you’ll find at Bedrock Recovery Center.

Bedrock works to connect families with treatment options and other supportive resources capable of meeting their family member’s needs.

Call us today to learn more about our available treatment options for mental health or addiction.

  1. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology — The Impact of Pharmacotherapy of Childhood-Onset Psychiatric Disorders on the Development of Substance Use Disorders
  2. Massachusetts General Hospital — Medication treatment of pediatric psychiatric disorders reduces the later onset of substance use problems
  3. Mental Health America — The State of Mental Health in America
  4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Mental Illness and Substance Use in Young Adults
  5. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — High Risk Substance Use in Youth

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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