Rather than "going through a phase" that they will out grow, the new study indicates that their drinking and mental health problems will get worse with age if left untreated.
Previous studies have shown that these "early onset" substance abusers become the most difficult to treat in adulthood.
Dr. Paul Rohde of the Oregon Research Institute interviewed 940 high school students twice during adolescence and again at age 24. The results of the study, published in the January issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, indicate that those will diagnosed drinking problems, or even symptoms of drinking problems as teens were more likely to:
- Develop increased drinking problems.
- Smoke cigarettes and use other drugs.
- Develop depression and personality disorders.
Of these students with alcohol problems as teens, a full 80 percent also had psychological problems such as depression or behavioral disorders.
"Clearly," Rohde and his researchers wrote, "for many adolescents, alcohol use disorders and problematic alcohol consumption are not benign conditions that self-resolve."
Because teens with only some symptoms of problem drinking were at risk for future alcohol use disorders, doctors should look for early signs of alcohol problems, Rohde said. Doctors should also look for psychiatric disorders in teens who exhibit any drinking problems, the researchers concluded.
Author and speaker Shelly Marshall literally wrote the book on treating teen-age abusers. Her book, Parents Need to Know: Teenage Addicts Can Recover points out common prejudices about teen addicts and the effectiveness of placing teen addicts in multi-generational programs.
Shelly recommends "treating the addict, not the age" and stresses the importance of placing teens in regular treatment settings, rather than segregating them into "teen programs."
In her book, she gives 21 Questions for Parents, which she calls "The Winning Hand" and recommends parents "answer these 21 questions for each child in your family age 9 or older. Have your spouse take it independently of you without discussing anything until you are both done. Compare your results with your spouse's. This way the deck will not be stacked against you."
She tells parents whose teens are using to seek professional help immediately.