Smoking, Drinking And Mental Illness In Teens
February 6, 2013

Mentally Ill Teens Face Risk Of Poor Physical Health From Smoking, Drinking And Substance Abuse

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

A new study in the British Medical Journal highlights the use of alcohol and drugs by mentally ill teens, finding that one in 10 young mentally ill teens frequently use cannabis, drink alcohol, and smoke cigarettes.

Based on the findings, researchers believe that the use of these substances can increase the risk of poor physical and mental health of young teens. They also found that early substance abuse can lead to more frequent abuse of these substances as individuals become older. The findings by the group of Australian scientists were recently featured in the online edition of the British Medical Journal Open.

"Given the comorbidity with significant mental health problems, these patterns of substance use are likely to contribute to increased risk of poor physical and/or mental health outcomes," commented the authors in a prepared statement.

In particular, the research project included observations of over 2,000 individuals between 12 and 30 years old. The participants were involved in a national mental health headspace program in Sydney, Australia. The researchers had participants submit information on their weekly use of alcohol, cannabis, and tobacco, with 500 of the participants providing more detailed accounts of their alcohol consumption.

According to the team of investigators, alcohol was consumed at least once a week by one in eight (12 percent) of the teens between 12 to 17 years old, four out of 10 participants (39 percent) between 18 and 19 years of age, and almost half of the individuals who were between 20 and 30 years of age.

Apart from alcohol, about seven percent of the teens stated that they used cannabis at least once a week. Similar use of cannabis was also found among 14 percent of participants between 18 and 19 years of age, and 18 percent of participants between 20 and 30 years of age. The researchers discovered that participants who were in the two younger age groups had a higher likelihood of smoking cannabis every day than drinking alcohol.

Furthermore, almost one in four (23 percent) of teens noted that they smoked cigarettes on a daily basis. A larger percentage of older participants appeared to smoke daily, with one in three (36 percent) of older teens and four out of 10 (41 percent) between ages 20 and 30 years admitting to smoking every day.

At the end of the study, the team of investigators determined that 15 was the average age at which individuals began to engage in drug and alcohol use. The ones who have used any or all three of the substances have a greater likelihood of being older, male, and having suffered from psychotic or bipolar disorders The researchers believe that individuals with mental health issues who use cannabis, smoke cigarettes, or drink alcohol have a higher chance of developing serious health problems and increase their risk of mortality.

The findings from the Australian researchers correlate with a recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that found that U.S. adults with mental illness smoke more frequently than individuals who do not suffer from mental illness. The study, conducted collaboratively with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), found that 36 percent of adults with mental illness smoke compared to 21 percent of individuals who do not have mental illness. Smokers with mental illness also smoke more cigarettes than nonsmokers, approximately 20 more cigarettes in a month or 240 more cigarettes in a year.

According to an article in Medical News Today, one in five adults in the U.S. suffer from some type of mental illness and the researchers were able to approximate the rates for smoking and mental illness at the national and state level.

"Special efforts are needed to raise awareness about the burden of smoking among people with mental illness and to monitor progress in addressing this disparity," Pamela S. Hyde, a SAMHSA Administrator, told Medical News Today.

Overall, smoking is a health concern, as it is one of the leading causes of death and is related to health issues such as lung cancer and strokes. For those who are interested in quitting smoking or helping a friend or family member quit smoking, there are a number of online resources available. Visit the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, and the to learn more.