Many adolescents with alcohol and drug problems have mental health comorbidities. The literature suggests that patients entering chemical dependency (CD) treatment with co-occurring problems have less successful outcomes, including treatment dropout and relapse. We examined the impact of psychiatric services on treatment initiation, retention, and alcohol and drug abstinence outcomes for adolescents in CD treatment.
Participants were 419 adolescents aged 12-18 years who were seeking treatment at four CD programs of a nonprofit, managed care, group model health system and a parent or guardian for each adolescent. We surveyed participants at intake and 6 months and examined clinical and administrative data on diagnoses and CD and psychiatric utilization. Six-month response rates were 91% for adolescents and 93% for parents.
Fifty-five percent of the patients with treatment intakes had at least one psychiatric diagnosis in addition to a substance use disorder. Compared with matched controls, patients with CD intakes had higher rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, and conduct disorder including oppositional defiant disorder. Thirty-one percent of the full sample had psychiatric visits in the 6 months after intake; among those with a psychiatric diagnosis, 54% had a psychiatric visit. Girls and those with higher Youth Self-Report internalizing scores were more likely to have a psychiatric visit (OR = 2.27, p < 0.001 and OR = 1.05, p < 0.0001, respectively). Adolescents receiving psychiatric services were more likely to be abstinent from both alcohol and drugs than those not receiving these services (OR = 1.57, 95% CI = 0.98-2.5) and more likely to be alcohol abstinent (OR = 1.68, 95% CI = 1.00-2.85). Those adolescents at colocated clinics had higher odds of abstinence from both alcohol and drugs (OR = 1.57, 95% CI = 1.03-2.39) and drugs (OR = 1.84, 95% CI = 1.87-2.85) and of returning after intake to initiate CD treatment (OR = 2.28, 95% CI = 1.44-3.61, p < 0.001) than others.
Our results demonstrate the need for psychiatric treatment of adolescents in CD treatment and highlight the importance of their receiving such services.