Adolescent Treatment for Co-occurring Disorders

Integrated Care for Multiple Disorders

During the teenage years, our brains are constantly growing and changing. This transitional period from childhood to adulthood can host a wide range of mental health and behavioral issues. Some of these issues are a natural part of the growing process and work themselves out with time. Other issues may contribute to addiction or substance use problems and require treatment.

When a mental health condition exists along with an addiction issue, these conditions are known as co-occurring disorders. If left untreated, co-occurring disorders can impact each other in major ways.

Co-occurring Disorders and Addiction

As described above, co-occurring disorders are when one or more mental health conditions exist along with one or more substance use issues. These underlying mental health conditions can be the root cause of addiction. Many mental health conditions make it more likely that your teen will develop substance use issues, especially if the conditions are left untreated. On the flip side, substance use and addiction can greatly affect the frequency and severity of mental health issues.

Common Co-occurring Mental Health Disorders

The nature of many untreated mental health conditions may make your teen more likely to start using drugs or alcohol to mask or cope with a wide range of negative emotions. Some of these negative emotions may include guilt, shame, pain, and anxiety.

Some common examples of co-occurring disorders include:


Depression may be the most common underlying mental health condition teenagers have. In the United States alone, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates more than 17.3 million adults have experienced at least one major depressive episode. Another study reports that 9.7% of youth in the United States suffered from severe depression in 2020.

While your teen may turn to drug and alcohol use to cope with the symptoms of depression, these substances also worsen the symptoms of depression. This can lead to a negative cycle for your teen that may require outside help to get under control.


Anxiety is also a widespread form of mental health disorder. One government study found that 7.1% of children ages 3-17 have been diagnosed with anxiety in some form or another.

Teens already face intense and new social situations regularly. If a teen is suffering from an anxiety disorder on top of that, it’s easy to see why they may turn to drugs or alcohol in order to cope with negative social feelings. Over time, your teen may rely on the effects of drugs or alcohol, putting them at risk for serious addiction issues.

Bipolar Disorder:

Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder that causes people to experience noticeable, sometimes extreme, changes in mood and behavior. Sometimes teens with bipolar disorder feel very happy or “up” and are much more energetic and active than usual. This is called a manic episode. Sometimes teens with bipolar disorder feel very sad or “down” and are much less active than usual. This is called a depressive episode.

During either type of episode, a teen may turn to drugs or alcohol in order to reduce the severity of symptoms. This can quickly lead to serious issues with addiction.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):

Traumatic experiences in early childhood can begin to cause symptoms of PTSD during the teenage years. PTSD is a condition marked by stress and anxiety that can be caused by intense or stressful experiences such as bullying, violent crimes, car accidents, parental neglect, and any other traumatic event.

For a teen with PTSD, their brain’s stress response system doesn’t switch off as it should. This may cause them to seek numbness or relief from alcohol and/or drug use, leading to a slippery slope that can end in addiction.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD):

Teens with ADHD may have an intense inability to focus, hyperactivity, or impulsiveness that makes it difficult for them to function on a daily basis. Teens suffering from this condition may commonly turn to alcohol or misuse prescribed medication in an effort to alleviate symptoms.

ADHD is very common in teens and adolescents. One government study determined that 6.1 million children were diagnosed with ADHD in 2016. Of these children, 3.3 million were ages 12 to 17.

These are only the most common underlying mental health issues that can co-occur with addiction, but there are many others. Using drugs or alcohol not only fails to heal a mental health disorder, but it can also prevent a person from developing healthy coping skills. This is especially true in teenagers as the brain is in a period of rapid growth.

Symptoms of Co-occurring Disorder

It can be difficult to tell if your teenager is suffering from co-occurring disorders because substance use and mental health conditions can often have symptoms that overlap. It’s very important to pay attention to your teen and their habits.

While every mental health disorder has unique characteristics, there are some common signs that point to the possibility of mental health struggles in teenagers. Some of these signs include:

  • Changes in sleeping or eating habits

You may notice your teen has been sleeping more or less than usual. Both insomnia and low energy levels can be a general sign of a mental health struggle. It’s also important to take note of your teen’s eating habits. While it may be normal for a teenager to gain or lose weight, it’s important to pay attention to signs of rapid change in eating habits.

  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that were once important

Often connected with a lack of energy, if your teen shows less interest in things that were once important to them, they may be suffering from a mental health issue. This may include a sudden disinterest in sports they were once heavily involved in or other extracurricular activities.

  • Emotional highs and lows

If your teen seems excited and energetic one minute but sluggish and lethargic the next, they may be suffering from a mental health condition. Mood swings can be a sign of many different mental health issues that can lead a teen to experiment with substance use.

  • Difficulty focusing in school and at home

If your teen has difficulty staying focused on school assignments or tasks at home, they may have a mental health disorder. Lack of mental clarity and difficulty focusing are both signs of attention disorders that may lead to a teen experimenting with substance use.

  • Isolation from family and friends

If you notice your teen is spending more and more time alone in their room, this may be a sign of a mental health problem. Social isolation can be a sign of both depression and anxiety in both teens and adults.

Along with these general signs of mental health disorders in teens, there are also signs to look out for that may suggest your teen is engaging in substance use.

Some of the signs of teen substance use may include:

  • Changes in appetite or sleeping patterns
  • Complaints of not feeling well
  • Declining performance in school
  • The presence of drug equipment such as pipes, empty bottles/cans, vape pens, and others
  • A loss of interest in activities your teen once enjoyed
  • Physical symptoms such as bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, stumbling, and dilated pupils
  • The odor of alcohol or marijuana on your teen or their clothes
  • New behavioral problems and mood swings
  • Missing medications or alcohol
  • Lying and deceitful behavior
  • A change in your teen’s friend group

By paying attention to your teen and their habits, you can better identify the warning signs of both substance use and mental health disorders.

Imagine by Northpoint Offers Integrated Treatment for Co-occurring Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders

In the past, mental health disorders and problems with addiction were treated as two separate issues. At Imagine by Northpoint, we understand co-occurring disorders and how they can impact your teen. In order to effectively treat issues with addiction and mental health disorders, the two must be treated together.

Treating just one of these issues will not cause the other to improve automatically. Along with this, treating both issues separately does not make for a treatment plan that helps heal the whole person.

At Imagine by Northpoint, our skilled team is here to help your teen by treating both their substance use issues and any underlying mental health conditions at the same time. This is called integrated care, and it can give your teen the best possible chance for long-term success and a healthy future.

Imagine by Northpoint delivers quality and consistent care to all teens using a treatment model based on an evidence-based treatment approach. The staff ensures a safe, non-judgmental, and treatment-focused environment. Call us today at 208-369-9511.


  • What is a co-occurring disorder?

When a mental health condition exists along with an addiction issue, these conditions are known as co-occurring disorders. The issues can have negative impacts on each other and often require professional help at a licensed rehab facility.

  • How common are co-occurring disorders?

The National Institutes of Health reports that about 50% of people who are in treatment for addiction issues also suffer from underlying mental health issues. This number rises to an estimated 60% for teens and adolescents.

  • What is a comorbid disorder?

Comorbidity describes two or more disorders occurring in the same person. Comorbidity also implies interactions between the disorders that can worsen the course of both.

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