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Teenagers and Dual Diagnosis: Mental Health Awareness

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Most of us know a teenager who suffers from depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder. Perhaps you’ve even dealt with one of these mental health disorders at some point.

However, the dangers that teens face with mental health disorders are heightened, as they are far more susceptible to developing a drug or alcohol problem.

Chemical Dependency Risk

Drug addicted young man with hands clasped together sitting alone at a corridor

Teenagers often turn to drugs or alcohol as a means of self-medicating; they’re unable to regulate or deescalate the vast majority of their thoughts and emotions. In fact, most adolescents battling a substance abuse problem also have a co-occurring mental health disorder. What’s more, these mental health issues go undiagnosed and untreated in many cases.

Even more alarming, drug and alcohol abuse during one’s teenage years can exacerbate or even cause some of the psychiatric symptoms. However, teenagers can be reluctant to seek help because they don’t want to face the stigma surrounding drug addiction and behavioral issues.

Dual Diagnosis

study published last October in the journal Psychiatric Services found that the general public is far more sympathetic to mental illness than drug addiction. Sixty-four percent of those surveyed said employers should be allowed to deny work to someone with a drug addiction, but only 25 percent believed that should be the case with mental illness.

If your child or another teenager in your life has been diagnosed with both mental health and substance abuse disorders, they have what’s known as a “dual diagnosis.” Co-occurring disorders like these require specific treatments that tackle each issue. In other words, addressing drug addiction won’t solve the mental health issues and vice-versa.

Finding Help

Luckily, there are plenty of treatment programs specializing in co-occurring disorders, ensuring your teen can receive simultaneous treatment for both issues.

When looking for treatment options, you’ll want to find a facility that emphasizes individual treatment plans and evidence-based approaches. Teens with a dual diagnosis should be handled differently than a “regular” addict – including the suggested relapse prevention strategies.

Although medication is frowned upon by some, it can play an essential role for those battling addiction and mental health disorders. Talk with your teen’s physician about non-addictive medications like SSRI’s, the most frequently prescribed form of antidepressant, which can create a stabilizing effect.

Most importantly, teenagers with a dual diagnosis need support. While post-treatment care in the form of support groups (like AA and NA) is critical, teenagers also need to know that people are there for them. That encouragement could be all the motivation they need to tackle both disorders and ultimately go on to live happy, sober lives.

Learn more about dual diagnosis and available treatment options.

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The editorial staff of is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands of pages for accuracy and relevance. Our reviewers consistently monitor the latest research from SAMHSA, NIDA, and other reputable sources to provide our readers the most accurate content on the web.
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