Treating Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders in Adolescents: What Is on the Menu?

Stanley Brewer, Mark D. Godley, Leslie Hulvershorn

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

12 Scopus citations


Specific treatments targeting adolescents with substance use disorders (SUDs) have been developed over the last couple of decades. Despite these developmentally tailored treatments, long-term abstinence rates remain relatively low among adolescents receiving care. Research over the last decade has increasingly focused on adolescents with comorbid substance use and psychiatric disorders, in recognition of the barriers caused by inadequate treatment of co-occurring psychiatric disorders. Treatments targeting dually diagnosed youth are now regarded as essential to improving SUD treatment outcomes, but remain underutilized. A variety of treatment modalities such as behavioral therapy, family therapy, 12-step groups, motivational interviewing, contingency management, and combinations of these interventions have been modified for adolescents. In this article, we review the research on these treatments, as they apply to dually diagnosed youth. Furthermore, we explore the evidence for various treatments targeting comorbid SUD, specific to the presence of externalizing or internalizing disorders. The current evidence base supports the importance of integrated treatment targeting both SUD and psychiatric disorders simultaneously. High-quality treatment programs offering combinations of behavioral and family therapy, particularly with motivational interviewing and contingency management, are particularly well supported. In addition, we review various psychotropic medication treatments that have also been studied in conjunction with adolescent SUD treatment. Finally, we review research on post-treatment, supportive care that has been shown to improve long-term SUD outcomes. Recently conceptualized modular treatments, which offer personalized combinations of evidence-based treatments for specific disorders, have been proposed as a means of improving outcomes. Future research on modular programs must test the efficacy of individualized treatments when applied to combinations of psychiatric and SUDs in adolescents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number5
JournalCurrent Psychiatry Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


  • Adolescents
  • Dual diagnosis
  • Evidence-based treatments
  • Substance use disorders

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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