According to the World Health Organization, tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death. Smoking, drinking, and illicit drug use often begin during youth and can easily progress into a substance abuse disorder. Because these risky behaviors begin in adolescence, it's important to raise awareness and educate people on the lasting effects of teen substance abuse on mental health.

A study published in the Journal of Adolescence investigates the differences and frequencies of substance abuse between adolescents with psychiatric disorders and adolescents without. What Wench Langfjord Mangerud and her team found suggests that those with psychiatric disorders generally show more substance abuse habits than the general population.

The Participants

Sifting through the admissions to the St. Olav's University Hospital in Trondheim, Norway, 566 adolescents with at least one psychiatric disorder were recruited for the study. The sample consisted of 307 girls and 259 boys, ages 13 to 18. After the patients were stabilized, they were asked to participate in a Health Survey administered by the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (CAP). The CAP survey asked demographic and health-related questions.

The control group consisted of 8173 adolescents from the general population of Norway. These participants were recruited from schools and were asked to complete the Young-HUNT 3 questionnaire. Of this group, 4,115 girls and 4,058 boys from the general public participated in the Young-HUNT questionnaire. This questionnaire, similar to the CAP survey, collected a wide array of demographic and health-related information.

Common questions asked in both surveys were:

  • Do you currently smoke?
  • Have you ever tried hash, marijuana, or other illicit drugs?
  • Have you ever tried drinking alcohol?

The Statistics

While both groups showed substance abuse behavior, there were significant differences in the affinity towards particular substances and frequency of abuse. Generally speaking, girls tended to smoke and drink more than boys, but experimented less with illicit drugs. The results from the study revealed that adolescents with psychiatric disorders:

  • Smoked more. Of this group, girls smoked more than boys.
  • Drank less alcohol.
  • The boys more commonly have tried illicit drugs.
  • Those with mood disorders showed the highest frequencies of smoking and illicit drug use.
  • Those with eating disorders had the highest frequency of alcohol use.

Looking at the data, Mangerud writes, “Adolescent psychiatric patients, compared with adolescents in the general population, had a higher prevalence of current smoking and an odds of having tried illicit drugs increased by four times, but they had a lower prevalence of current alcohol use." Mangerud takes an interest on the smoking frequency in adolescents with psychiatric disorders, noting that smoking can “lead to increased anxiety, anxiety may increase smoking rates, and both may be influenced by shared vulnerability factors in both adults and adolescents."

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Wenche Lanfjord Mangerud, Ottar Bjerkeset, Turid Lingaas Holmen, Stian Lydersen, Marid Sæbø Indredavik. Smoking, alcohol consumption, and drug use among adolescents with psychiatric disorders compared with a population based sample. Journal of Adolescence, October 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2014.08.007

Date of original publication:

Updated: March 23, 2016