Teen Drug Treatment and Mental Illness

It’s hard to know you have a mental illness if you’ve lived with symptoms of sadness, helplessness, or hopelessness for a long time. And it’s particularly hard to know if you have depression, are manic, or moody. Or if there has been chronic dysfunction and disease in your family home. For instance, if having certain experiences such as depression or anxiety is part of your “normal” functioning and what you’re familiar with, then you might not ever think to see a psychologist or therapist.

In Need of a Teen Drug Treatment

Instead, you might turn to alcohol or drug use. And this can happen rather innocently. It can start with having a drink at a friend’s house or a party or going out one night. The alcohol makes you feel good. Suddenly, you’re not feeling sad or lonely. Instead, for once, you’re feeling social, and gregarious. Although it’s a temporary feeling, you enjoy it and want it again. It’s an innocent beginning that can easily turn into an addiction.

Teens who are using drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism for strong emotions or to function better are known to be self-medicating. However, most teens and adolescents who self-medicate do so unintentionally. It’s not that they are necessarily trying to treat their mental illness. Most likely there is not an awareness that a mental illness even exists. Instead, they are looking for relief from challenging emotions or for a way to better function in school, at home, or at work. In most cases, they are happy to learn that they can experience a relief of feelings with drugs or drinking. Over time, the psychological dependence on a substance that is characteristic of an addiction develops.

Teen Co-occurring Disorder

When an adolescent has both an addiction to substances and a mental illness is known as a teen co-occurring disorder. It’s also having a dual diagnosis. Approximately, 60-75% of teens who abuse drugs or alcohol also have a mental illness. Among adolescents who have not used substances before, the incidences of first time drug use is higher among those who have experienced a major depressive episode than those who have not. Other mental illnesses that co-exist with substance use are Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Anxiety, Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

For the best mental health treatment and teen drug treatment, there would ideally be an integration of services between the psychiatric and the drug counseling fields. Treatment should also explore any underlying issues that may have contributed to either the mental illness or the addiction in the first place. Often, this can be early childhood trauma, the presence of addiction in the family home, the loss of a loved one, or chronic experiences of helplessness.


An example of an integrated experience of treatment might involve: individual and family psychotherapy, medication, support groups, and strong communication among the psychiatrist, psychologist, family members, social workers, teachers, and other professionals in female teen’s life. Furthermore, the start of attending a treatment center that addresses a co-occurring disorder might include:

  • Initial Assessment
  • Individualized Psychotherapy
  • Family Therapy
  • Medical Detox
  • Behavioral Modification Therapy
  • Group Counseling
  • Support Groups
  • Chemical Dependency Education

Many teens that have addiction might go to a rehabilitation treatment center. Where they do not address the psychological factors of the mental illnesses. This usually leads to teen chronic relapse because the primary cause for the addiction was not addressed.  If only the addiction is addressed, a teen will eventually re-experience the underlying issues. And associated feelings, leading to a need to self-medicate again.


Treating both the mental illness and the addiction at the same time is the most effective form of treatment for co-occurring disorders.