Increasing diagnosis of nicotine dependence in adolescent mental health patients


  • J. Douglas Sellman,

  • Alexander R. Wootton,

  • David B. Stoner,

  • Daryle E. Deering,

  • Brian J. Craig

  • National Centre for Treatment Development (Alcohol, Drugs and Addiction), Department of Psychological Medicine, Christchurch School of Medicine, PO Box 4345, Christchurch, New Zealand. Email:

  • David B. Stoner, Psychiatric Registrar; Brian J. Craig, Clinical Director

  • Youth Specialty Service, Mental Health Division, Healthlink South, Christchurch, New Zealand

J.Douglas Sellman, Director (Correspondence); Alexander R. Wootton, medical student; Daryle E. Deering, Lecturer


Objective: The aim of this study was to investigate the routine recording patterns of patients’ smoking by clinical staff of an adolescent mental health service over a 3-year period.

Method: A systematic examination of the clinical files of all patients who underwent an initial assessment or reassessment at the Youth Specialty Service (Mental Health; YSS) over a 2-month period (1 April–31 May) was carried out in 1996, 1997 and 1998. A range of data were collected including: demographics; diagnoses; amount of total information recorded and history of nicotine dependence.

Results: A stable historical record of cigarette smoking in the region of 30–40% across the 3 years sampled was found, but the rate of formal diagnosis of nicotine dependence rose from 3.6% in 1996 to 26.3% in 1998. This rise was in the context of relative stability over this time period of: size of reports and relevant sections (alcohol and drug history, cigarette smoking history); three other key diagnoses, major depression, conduct disorder and alcohol dependence; and demographic data. The rise in rate of diagnosis proceeded specific discussion within the clinical team about nicotine dependence.

Conclusions: Adolescent mental health settings are a key venue to address heavy and potentially chronic cigarette smoking, but nicotine dependence has been traditionally a neglected diagnosis in mental health patients. The rate of diagnosis is likely to rise when specific discussion is undertaken within clinical teams.