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James Donaldson on Mental Health – Parents Guide to Co-occurring Substance Use and Mental Health Disorders (Pt.1)


James Donaldson notes:

Welcome to the “next chapter” of my life… being a voice and an advocate for mental health awareness and suicide prevention, especially pertaining to our younger generation of students and student-athletes.

Getting men to speak up and reach out for help and assistance is one of my passions. Us men need to not suffer in silence or drown our sorrows in alcohol, hang out at bars and strip joints, or get involved with drug use.

Having gone through a recent bout of depression and suicidal thoughts myself, I realize now, that I can make a huge difference in the lives of so many by sharing my story, and by sharing various resources I come across as I work in this space.  http://bit.ly/JamesMentalHealthArticle

Peer Support

You’ve noticed your teen is increasingly moody and anxious. Is this a sign of a mental health disorder? Or substance use? Or could it be both? What might be behind a young person’s change in behavior is often hard to pin down, particularly when substance use and mental health are both factors. But understanding how these challenges can manifest in a child’s life, and sometimes entwine to create new problems or complicate treatment, is essential to keeping kids healthy.


When children are struggling with both a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder, they are said to have co-occurring disorders. You may also hear these referred to as comorbid disorders or a “dual diagnosis.” The disorders may have developed at the same time, or one might have led into the other. Either way, co-occurring disorders can bring a host of questions.

How worried should parents be if a child has anxiety and is smoking pot? If a young adult has depression and is drinking, where should treatment begin? Is a child diagnosed with ADHD more vulnerable to developing a problem with substances?

If you are a parent or caregiver, teacher, or community member concerned about a child’s mental health or substance use, you are in the right place.

This guide, a collaboration of the Child Mind Institute and Center on Addiction-Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, provides information on common mental health disorders in adolescence (and the medications that are often used to treat these), tips on identifying substance misuse, and steps to making informed decisions about evaluation and treatment for co-occurring disorders.

An Introduction to Co-Occurring Disorders

Prevalence of Co-Occurring Disorders

Over 2.3 million adolescents (aged 12-17) and 7.7 million young adults (aged 18-25) used illegal drugs or misused prescription medication in the U.S. in 2014. About 2.9 million adolescents and 20.8 million young adults — more than half of the young adult population — consumed alcohol in the past month.

Mental health disorders are a subject of increasing concern for young adults. One in five adolescents has a mental health disorder. The most common are anxiety disorders, depression and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Young people may also struggle with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder.

Risks Factors

Mental health disorders and substance use are tightly linked. Often, when a mental health disorder goes undiagnosed or untreated, a young person will attempt to self-medicate or self-treat with drugs or alcohol. Studies show that ADHD, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression all increase risk of drug use and dependence in adolescents.

At the same time, substance use poses a serious risk for developing a mental health disorder. Heavy marijuana use is a demonstrated risk factor for triggering episodes of psychosis, particularly in those with a family history of psychotic disorders. Misuse of prescription medications like stimulants or certain antidepressants can lead to manic or unusually irritable mood states.

Happily, research also shows that identifying and treating mental health disorders can reduce substance use. Similarly, reducing substance use can improve treatment outcomes for mental health disorders.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline


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