hen mental health issues arise among teenagers, parents often wonder: Did alcohol or drugs cause this? Or did a pre-existing mental health issue cause the substance use?
Substance use and mental health problems often go hand-in-hand. In fact, surveys show that 33 per cent of youth with a diagnosed mental health condition also have a substance use issue. The rates are even higher among those with a diagnosed substance use condition (such as dependence on alcohol or addiction to drugs), with anywhere from 60 to 80 per cent found to have an underlying mental health condition.
When mental illness and substance use show up together it is called a “concurrent disorder” and it is particularly challenging to treat because both issues must be explored and treated at the same time. Sometimes the two are very closely entwined; sometimes they just exist together.
Why do the two issues so often occur together? One reason is that the risk factors underlying both the mental health condition and the substance use issue are similar and may include a genetic predisposition, family history or any of a series of common life stressors such as a past experience of loss, trauma, abuse or poor attachment; a difficult or unstable family or living situation; limited supportive adults in their life; chronic stress; learning disabilities or poor school performance issues; poverty and neglect.