Adolescent substance use disorders and comorbidity

Pediatr Clin North Am. 2002 Apr;49(2):463-77. doi: 10.1016/s0031-3955(01)00014-1.


It is imperative to know what risk factors are more likely to appear during specific developmental stages so that identification and interventions can be used to decrease the risk for future SUD. Continued surveying of risk factors that can occur at any stage in childhood are important to ensure that other risk factors are anticipated and intervened upon as well. Multiple risk factors increase the magnitude of the risk for SUD, and therefore all risk factors should be detected to convert these to protective factors. Screening instruments that can assess risk factors found to increase the risk for substance abuse can be found in examples, such as the Drug Usage Screening Instrument [81] and the Problem-Oriented Screening Instrument for Teenagers. The detection of risk factors by primary care providers is becoming increasingly important. However, other professionals are beginning to recognize that early recognition and treatment can enable a youth to go on to a productive life in other arenas as well. Drug courts and diversion programs are beginning to treat first-time offenders and their families rather than taking the punitive approach. These have proven to be very successful. Primary care physicians also should become familiar with motivational enhancement therapy when confronting a youth with a suspected substance abuse problem [57]. This method has proven to be more effective in getting youth into treatment than the direct, confrontational style, which often puts the youth in a defensive mode. Motivational enhancement therapy includes interventions that are delivered in a neutral and empathetic way. The six components of motivational enhancement therapy (also called FRAMES) include: Feedback on personal impairment Emphasis on personal responsibility Clear advice to change Menu of alternative options Empathy as a counseling style Self-efficacy In this way, a clinician can elicit pros and cons, give advice, provide choices, practice empathy, clarify goals, and remove barriers. This technique allows youth to be less defensive and more proactive. Monti et al. [59] have demonstrated that this technique has been useful in getting youth into treatment. Primary care physicians can use instruments that will assess the possibility of both externalizing (e.g., ADHD) and internalizing (e.g., depression and anxiety) disorders. Examples of this type of instrument are the Auchenbach child behavior checklist, teacher report form, and youth self-report form, which survey symptoms for these disorders [1]. Social anxiety disorder can be detected by asking whether the prelatency child went into new situations willingly and tended to hang back or whether the child had difficulty separating from his or her parents. Other questions to ask are whether the child tended to isolate or was fearful of speaking in front of the class. Of course, any bruising or behavior that suggests exposure to adult-related sexual acts may cause concern for physical or sexual abuse and possible PTSD. However, interest in sex earlier than expected for the age of the child may also indicate the possibility of bipolar disorder. These children have many symptoms of ADHD with a high degree of irritability and may seem boastful or grandiose. They may be "daredevils" with no fear of dangerous consequences. Referral to a specialist is necessary to evaluate these children further. Because substance use at age 14 or 15 years can be predicted by academic and social behavior at ages 7 to 9 years, early detection of poor social skills and learning difficulties is essential [43]. Learning disorders can be uncovered by asking the school to do an evaluation. However, schools having economic problems may not be able to accommodate all requests. A parent may have to pay a private provider to complete this workup because insurance companies seldom pay for educational testing. Learning disorders may go undetected because many school systems opt to use a higher deviation from the full-scale IQ to detect learning problems. For instance, if a student has an IQ of 115, the standard nationally recommended deviation from this IQ to detect a learning disorder is 15. Therefore, any child who scores 100 or less on an achievement test should be considered to have a learning disorder. Some schools prefer to use a deviation of up to 23 so that learning disorders are not detected. Few schools screen for processing problems, including auditory and visual motor processing problems, processing speed, comprehension, and short-term and long-term memory problems. This is extremely important because ADHD can be confused with an auditory processing problem. Stimulants may help this condition, but accommodations must be made to ensure continued success. Early-intervention programs, such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), proved to be ineffective because the programs did not target components that have been shown to predict future drug use [54]. One program that has targeted these components, normative beliefs, lifestyle-behavior incongruence, and commitment is the All Stars program [39,40]. A strong initial dosage with booster interventions for at least 2 years is also important [10]. Before a child is diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder, every effort should be made to detect any underlying psychiatric disorder that has not been treated and therefore may look like a conduct disorder (e.g., bipolar disorder). Proper psychopharmacologic interventions should be made for psychiatric disorders. If one drug has been ineffective, another untreated psychiatric disorder may be present, and it is always important to tease out what remaining symptoms are present after a therapeutic trial has been tried. It is important to form a team approach so that all risk factors can be approached. Members of the team often include a primary care physician, a child psychologist, the parents, the patient, a teacher, a school counselor, a child psychiatrist, and sometimes a pediatric neurologist. No one member of the treatment team can provide all of the necessary services to prevent the future risk for substance abuse.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / complications*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / complications*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*