Objective: To determine the prevalence of substance use among adolescents with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and to assess available opportunities for rheumatologists to identify high risk teens.
Methods: Fifty-two teens (mean age 13.9 years, 86% female) completed questionnaires regarding substance use (alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and other illicit substances), functional disability, and frequency of health care contacts.
Results: Alcohol use was reported by 30.7% of teens, including 23.5% of those for whom methotrexate was prescribed; 15.4% reported tobacco use in the last year, and 13.4% reported other illicit substance use in their lifetime, although most use was experimental. No teen reported marijuana use. The majority reported regular contact with their rheumatologist but only 26.9% were ever interviewed alone.
Conclusion: Many teens with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, including those prescribed methotrexate, used substances, especially alcohol. When rheumatologists see adolescents, particularly in situations where methotrexate may be prescribed, a clinical setting conductive to confidentially, physician comfort in asking about sensitive topics such as substance abuse, and referral relationships with skilled adolescent health and substance abuse counseling providers are essential.