Trauma and Adolescent Substance Use

Oct 9, 2023 | Uncategorized

“Mental health conditions and substance use are inextricably linked, and during a time of concurrent overdose and youth mental health crises,” state governors in the United States are working to “protect and support youth with multi-disciplinary and strategic approaches that invest in root cause prevention and improve access to high-quality services,” wrote the National Governors Association (NGA) in a bipartisan statement in May that declared “preventing substance use and mitigating risk among youth a critical bipartisan priority.”

“The presence of mental health conditions, trauma, or neurodevelopmental disorders increases a person’s risk for developing a substance use disorder. Alarmingly, overdose deaths among adolescents increased 109 percent from 2019 to 2021,” warned the NGA. “States are taking actions to acknowledge the connection between these crises and enhance upstream protective factors and youth mental health services, which will have rippling impacts in preventing substance use.”

Childhood trauma is a strong predictor of substance use issues. “Adolescents with substance use disorders (SUD) frequently report traumatic events (TEs) and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),” wrote Basedow, Kuitunen-Paul, Roessner, and Golub in their 2020 study on the connection between traumatic events and SUDs in adolescents. “Adolescent patients with SUD reported three times higher rates of TEs, and a five-time higher prevalence of PTSD following TEs, than the general adolescent population. Adolescent SUD patients with PTSD reported more severe substance use problems than patients without PTSD—regardless of previous TEs.”

“Ample evidence has shown that childhood trauma compromises neural structure and function, rendering an individual susceptible to later cognitive deficits and psychiatric illnesses, including schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance abuse,” wrote Khoury, Tang, et al. in a 2010 study on substance use and childhood trauma. 

Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, include experiencing violence, abuse, or neglect, witnessing violence in the home or community, or having a family member attempt or die by suicide can be devastating for a child. ACEs are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance use problems in adolescence and adulthood. 

To be successful, evidence-based addiction treatment needs to address any underlying mental health issues that are driving substance misuse. “Youth may use substances for many reasons including social motives, sensation-seeking, as well as trauma-related self-medication,” wrote the NGA. “Consider ADHD, the most prevalent neurodevelopmental disorder among children, which strongly predicts substance use and is more prevalent among children with ACEs and those living in poverty. It is even more strongly linked to substance use when comorbidities exist with autism spectrum disorder or mood disorder (e.g., bipolar, depression).” 

The strong connection between traumatic stress and substance misuse has significant implications for the affected children and their families. Engaging core family members in the treatment plan can play a vital role in the recovery of teens with substance use disorder. 

Avanti Behavioral Health offers teen trauma therapy of the highest quality. Our program has been designed to offer a range of therapy options, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), a modality that uses elements of cognitive therapy, exposure therapy, and bilateral brain stimulation, such as eye movements or taps, to stimulate the brain’s natural healing processes. 

“Because mental health and substance use are strongly linked, focusing on the root causes of mental health disorders will reduce substance use and overdose,” wrote the governors. 

Avanti’s “Always Forward” philosophy pushed us to create a comprehensive treatment approach, ensuring that our adolescent patients receive the most cutting-edge care available. Our commitment to a modern evidence-based clinical curriculum enables us to adapt and refine our approaches. We address the unique needs of each individual client, fostering their progress, and maximizing their potential for long-term well-being.

Avanti recognizes the role of family integration as a pillar of our treatment approach. We understand that a structured and consistent environment is essential for the well-being and progress of teenagers. We provide parents with the guidance and support they need to navigate the challenges of a complicated home environment. By prioritizing family integration, we strengthen familial bonds, provide a strong support system, and maximize the potential for lasting positive treatment outcomes for our adolescent clients.

We have developed an effective method of family counseling, focusing on multiple factors involving the existing family dynamic by examining the family unit and understanding the role of each individual family member. Ultimately, the aim is to restructure the family dynamic into something healthy, functional, and beneficial for all involved.

Our meetings are available to provide concerned family members with the tools that they need to support their loved ones effectively in the recovery process. For more information about our intensive outpatient program and family counseling call us at (720) 753-4030.

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