Study Highlights Mental Health, Substance Use Links in Young People

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Photo Courtesy of JewdiniA new Australian study found on average teens receiving mental health treatment start using marijuana, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol at age 15. The report was published in British Medical Journal Open.

Researchers from the University of Sydney’s Brain & Mind Research Institute collected the data of more than 2,000 subjects ages 12 to 30 in a cross-sectional study. Subjects were then broken into three age group categories: adolescents and teenagers (respondents ages 12 to 17), older teens (18- and 19-year-olds) and young adults (ages 20 to 30).

Among the youngest age group, 12 percent of respondents reported weekly use of alcohol, while approximately 7 percent reported weekly marijuana use. Almost a quarter of respondents in the age group reported daily nicotine use.

Older teens aged 18 and 19 reported weekly alcohol and marijuana use at rates of 39 percent and 14 percent, respectively. Researchers said about 36 percent of the subjects in the study were habitual nicotine users.

Young adults were found to have the highest usage rates of all three substances. Approximately 45 percent of 20 to 30 year old respondents reported weekly drinking -- almost one-fifth of subjects reported weekly marijuana use. More than 20 percent of respondents in the age group were daily nicotine users, according to the study.

Older male subjects with psychotic or bipolar disorders were found to be more likely to engage in use of any of the three drugs, the researchers found.

In an University of Sydney press release, lead report author Dr. Daniel Hermens said the study indicates a need to better integrate substance use and mental health interventions when treating young people.

“There is a lot of evidence for the co-morbidity of mental health problems and substance misuse,” he said. “More people have both mental health and substance use problems than either alone -- in other words, it’s a rule rather than the exception.”

Photo by Jewdini | Flickr.com