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SUD and Mortality Rates Study Highlights the Deadly Nature of Teen Addiction

Two teens passing a joint Mother or father: Put those drugs down now! Those things will kill you! Adolescent son or daughter: (takes drugs) Hey, we’re all gonna die sometime right? It’s just a two-line scene, but there’s a lot going on here. The parent is angry because the teen is consuming a substance which could quite literally kill him or her. After all, drug overdoses claim the lives of roughly 4,200 teenagers every year. But the teen is obviously not worried about that scenario. Perhaps he or she is thinking, I won’t get addicted. I’ll get high whenever I want, but I won’t do anything stupid or deadly – and I’ll still live a long, fruitful life.  It’s true that the majority of teens who try drugs or alcohol don’t become addicted, and many of them grow up to lead normal adult lives. It’s also true that 100 percent of humans will eventually die. However, most addicts probably never think they will become dependent on a drug (or die of an overdose) when they first try it. There’s another subtext to the parent-teen exchange: the fact that the teenager opts to take drugs against his or her parent’s orders. It’s a sign of a conduct disorder with the adolescent, which is even more relevant to a teen’s mortality rate than the substance use itself.

Conduct Issues, Substance Misuse, and Premature Death

That was the conclusion of a study published earlier this month in the journal Addiction. Scientists from the University of Colorado-Boulder wanted to see whether substance use and/or conduct disorders in adolescents had any impact on the lifespan of these individuals. They looked at about 3,700 adolescents, many of whom came from correctional facilities or teen addiction treatment centers and were suffering from conduct disorders, substance use disorders, or both. The researchers then followed up by checking the National Death Index to determine how many of these individuals had died in early adulthood. What they discovered was shocking. Juveniles who suffered from a conduct disorder and/or a substance use disorder as teenagers were five times more likely to have died by the time the researchers had followed up. The follow-up age range for participants was between the participants’ late 20s to mid-30s. Of those who died, almost one out of every three of them perished as a result of substance use, which was the most common cause of premature death in the study. However, the scientists said that the presence of a conduct disorder during the teen years was even more predictive of an early death than having a substance use disorder. Mom warning daughter

What Does It All Mean?

These findings indicate that adolescents who are addicted to drugs or dealing with conduct challenges are less likely to live a “long, fruitful” life than their peers – even if they survive their teen years and make it into adulthood. What may surprise parents is that conduct disorders are a more powerful indicator of a shortened lifespan than is substance use, which is why the lead researchers concluded their study by saying “…it is clear that youth identified with conduct problems are at extreme risk for premature mortality and in critical need of greater resources.” So while there are plenty of resources to address issues like teen drug use and suicide, there aren’t as many places to turn for parents who are worried that their child’s conduct disorder may result in an untimely death before age 40. In any event, the study suggests that parents should perhaps be just as worried about their teens’ behavioral issues as they are about their substance use. If you think that your teenager has a conduct disorder that is causing him or her to experiment with drugs or alcohol, contact us to see how we can help.

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