Association of Lifetime Mental Disorders and Subsequent Alcohol and Illicit Drug Use: Results From the National Comorbidity Survey-Adolescent Supplement

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2016 Apr;55(4):280-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2016.01.006. Epub 2016 Feb 2.


Objective: To estimate the association of prior lifetime mental disorders with transitions across stages of substance use in a cross-sectional, nationally representative sample of US adolescents.

Method: The sample includes 10,123 adolescents aged 13 to 18 years who participated in the National Comorbidity Survey-Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A), and who were directly interviewed with the Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI) Version 3.0 that generates criteria for DSM-IV disorders.

Results: Adolescents with prior lifetime mental disorders had high rates of both alcohol (10.3%) and illicit drug (14.9%) abuse, with or without dependence. Alcohol and drug abuse were highest among adolescents with prior anxiety disorders (17.3% and 20%, respectively) and behavior disorders (15.6% and 24%, respectively). Any prior disorder significantly increased the risk of transition from nonuse to first use, and from use to problematic use of either alcohol or illicit drugs. Multivariate models attenuated the magnitude of the risk of transition associated with each disorder, although prior weekly smoking and illicit drug use demonstrated significant risks of transitions across the 3 stages of alcohol or drug use, as did behavior disorders.

Conclusion: The findings provide the first evidence from a nationally representative sample that prior mental disorders represent risk factors for the transition from nonuse to use, and the progression to drug- and alcohol-related problems. Treatment of primary mental disorders is likely to be an important target for the prevention of secondary substance use disorders in youth.

Keywords: adolescence; alcohol use; comorbidity; drug use; epidemiology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology*
  • Comorbidity
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Prevalence
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Risk Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Illicit Drugs