Substance Use + Underlying Mental Health Issues in Teens

Substance use treatment for adolescents is central to the work that Bacon Street Youth and Family Service does. This is the core of what we’ve done since 1971. What is important to understand is that substance use generally has an underlying mental health issue as well. At Bacon Street, we treat both the substance abuse and mental health issues, leading to better outcomes for youth. And this is why our clinical program is such an important part of our organization. Clinical services, such as counseling and early intervention, are so important. 


Substance Use

Nationwide, drug use is highest among people in their teens. Studies from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) show that:

  • By the 12th grade, about half of adolescents have misused an illicit drug at least once
  • 15% of high school seniors used prescription drugs for a nonmedical purpose 
  • 22.7% of 12th graders used marijuana in the past month in 2013, while 11.48% of 12th graders reported using synthetic marijuana in 2013 
  • Cigarette smoking among adolescents remains a problem, with reports showing that 15.6% of 12th graders were current cigarette smokers 

During the adolescent years, substance use may interrupt and greatly impact brain development, behavior, and relative cognitive and behavioral functioning. It is important to take into consideration the type of drug that is used when using the appropriate treatment. 


Underlying Mental Health Issues

What most people may not understand is that sometimes, both mental health disorders and substance use occur at the same time. This is called a co-occurring disorder, or “dual diagnosis.” The issues may have developed at the same time, or one might have led to the other. 

Regardless, it is much more common than most people realize. Substance use and mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, are commonly found together in teens. In fact, it occurs in more than half of all teens who abuse drugs. NIDA reports that 6 in 10 substance abuse also have a mental disorder. It is believed that adolescents that have a mental health disorder turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. 

Again, early intervention is key. By providing counseling services to adolescents and addressing the mental health disorder and substance use simultaneously, the likelihood of facing either issue in adulthood can be reduced dramatically. Counseling services allow us to help youth and their families get back on track by using evidence-based treatment to give them a chance to lead a normal life. And that is the goal of the clinical treatment we provide to each of our clients. 

To learn more about dual diagnosis, check out our blog at

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