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Co-occuring disorders common for youth substance use

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Updated: June 3, 2019 | Posted: May 28, 2019

When mental health disorders and substance use appear together, they are called "co-occuring disorders," and they're more common than not, according to Dr. Joseph Lee, the medical director of youth services at Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.

"The range is wide, somewhere between 20 percent and 90 percent depending on the diagnosis and the population," Lee said.

That range can include some very high-risk populations. LGBT populations, youth, those who have a serious mental illness, the homeless and those who experienced trauma have higher rates of comorbid conditions.

"It's more of a two-way road, it's not one thing causes the other, or a butterfly effect. You find that mental health issues can lead to or exasperate addiction later in life," Lee said. "But you also find that excessive substance use can lead to, and predicts for, certain mental health issues like depression and anxiety as well."

Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for youth, and those who have a substance use disorder are at higher risk of attempting suicide, although the relationship between the two is complicated.

But Lee added that there is an amplification and distortion of anger and loneliness throughout society.

"There is an intersectionality between our culture and how we're changing, out technology, our social media, our discourse and our depths of despair," Lee said. "That's something as a society I think we need to take a hard look at."

To hear more of Dr. Joseph Lee's conversation with Tom Crann, click play on the audio player above.

This interview is part of "Call to Mind," MPR's initiative to foster new conversations around mental health.