Perhaps you’ve heard the term before relating to mental health and wondered, what is a dual diagnosis?  A dual diagnosis refers to the presence of a substance use disorder and a mental health diagnosis simultaneously. An estimated 65% of teens with a substance use disorder have a dually diagnosed mental health condition. In the treatment of teen mental health, practitioners assess the potential of a dual diagnosis to ensure that the best treatment options are arranged to meet the patient’s needs.

Understanding the needs of teens and having a proper assessment of the presence of a dual diagnosis can result in better outcomes. If a teen has a substance use disorder and is dually diagnosed with depression, the symptoms of each of these conditions impact the other. A thorough diagnosis and the identification of dual conditions help struggling teens get the help they need. There are seven common diagnoses that can co-occur with substance use disorder in teens.

Antisocial Disorders

Antisocial personality disorder in teens is a diagnosis that manifests as:

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder Symptoms

    Lack of empathy for others

    Disregard for right and wrong

    Limited ability to connect with people genuinely

    Manipulating others

Teenage antisocial personality disorder poses a significant risk for substance use and addiction as a result of having fewer inhibitions about using substances. Causes of antisocial behavior in adolescents can vary. Genetic factors, maternal substance use, and environmental influences can all play a part in the development of an antisocial personality.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorder in teens is prevalent. Teens who have struggled with anxiety in childhood and don’t receive treatment are more likely to experience substance use disorder. Teens with anxiety may turn to substances as a method of self-medication or reducing distress caused by anxiety. Others may use substances as part of an impulse-related anxiety condition and become physiologically and psychologically addicted as a result. Teenage anxiety disorder symptoms include:

  • Anxiety Disorder Symptoms

    Feeling overwhelmed and stressed

    Restlessness, feeling jittery

    Tearfulness

    Feeling a loss of control

    Gastrointestinal upset

    Headaches and fatigue

    Social avoidance/changes

    Excessive worry

Rising anxiety levels among youth is an important factor to pay attention to and treat early on. Doing so may help prevent some instances of substance use disorder during the teenage years and contribute to a more healthy lifestyle.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD in teens and substance use disorder often co-occur. ADHD drug abuse and alcohol abuse sometimes emerge for teens who struggle with the condition. It can be difficult to manage ADHD, particularly in settings that are challenging for people with this condition, such as traditional classrooms and school settings. The impulsivity related to ADHD puts teens at a greater risk of substance use disorders. Social challenges, boredom, and behavioral issues can also reduce feelings of success in the school setting overall. Signs of ADHD in teens often manifest as:

  • Symptoms of ADHD

    Problems concentrating

    Distractibility

    Impulsivity

    Hyperactivity

    Disorganization

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder in teens impacts mood regulation, impulsivity and ability to function. The correlation between substance use disorder and bipolar disorder in youth is significant, in that substance use treatment is often sought before the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder co-occurs with a substance use disorder 60% of the time. Testing for bipolar disorder in teens can help determine if their symptoms meet the criteria for the diagnosis. Common symptoms include:

  • Bipolar Disorder Symptoms

    Distinct episodes of mania and depression

    Suicidal ideation

    High energy with little need for sleep

    Mood changes

    Impulsive, erratic behavior

    Irritability

    Excessive, inappropriate guilt

    Fatigue and exhaustion

Borderline Personality Disorder

BPD in teens affects feelings of belonging, stability, and self-esteem. People with this disorder are at an increased risk of a substance use disorder as a result of the turmoil and feelings of rejection that the condition causes. BPD in teenagers can make it difficult to trust others and the disorder often causes teens and others with the condition to engage in risky behaviors, including substance abuse. Teenage BPD symptoms include:

  • Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms

    Intense fear of abandonment

    Low self-esteem

    A belief that people reject and abandon them routinely

    Risky and self-injurious behaviors

    Suicidal ideation

    Intense anger and irritability

    Feelings of emptiness

Depression

Teen depression is at an all-time high, particularly in women. Depression in young adults and teens, unfortunately, increases the likelihood of developing substance use disorder. The use of alcohol or drugs in response to depression only worsens the condition. Depression in adolescents can present a bit differently than in adults. Some of the more common symptoms of depression in this age group include:

  • Depression Symptoms

    Irritability

    Shifts in mood

    Changes in eating patterns

    Preoccupation with death/dying

    Low self-esteem

    Changes in hygiene practices

    Fatigue or restlessness

    Changes in sleep patterns

    Weight loss or gain

    Inability to make decisions

    Cognitive fog

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders in adolescence pose significant health problems, and these conditions frequently co-occur with substance use. Teens with eating disorders may go to great lengths to hide their condition from others. The negative self-evaluation and low self-worth that come with eating disorders can cause some teens to resort to substance use as a means of self-medication. The results are anything but therapeutic and usually result in greater feelings of self-loathing and loss of control. Some signs of teenage eating disorders can include:

  • Eating Disorder Symptoms

    Perfectionist tendencies

    Unrealistic standards for oneself

    Excessive exercise

    Frequently going to the bathroom following a meal

    Mood changes

    Obsessiveness about food intake/calories/carbohydrates

    Low self-esteem

Helping Teens Cope with Dual Diagnosis Disorders

If you’re wondering how to talk to your teenager about drugs, help is available. The risk for teens with dual diagnosis is significant, as both conditions impact the other and will likely worsen over time if left untreated.

There are teen drug rehab programs that can help. Specialized dual diagnosis treatment centers in Florida can offer comprehensive treatment options that work with your teen’s specific needs. These programs offer strengths-based therapies to help your teen recover in a safe environment. Contact The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health today to learn more about treatment options for co-occurring-disorders or addiction for your loved one.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.