Substance Use Disorders in Children and Adolescents


ICD-10 code: F19.10

Substance use disorders are grouped within the cluster of diagnoses called the substance-related and addictive disorders.  Substance-related and addictive disorders are characterized by a maladaptive pattern of substance use manifested by recurrent and significant adverse consequences related to the use of substances. These problems are persistent and occur repeatedly within the same 12-month period.

The term substance can refer to a drug, a medication, or a toxin. In addition to alcohol, types of substances to which individuals may become addicted include:

  • Tobacco
  • Caffeine
  • Cannabis
  • Hallucinogens
  • Inhalants
  • Opioids
  • Sedatives
  • Stimulants

Substance-related disorders are divided into two groups:

  • Substance use disorders (SUD)
  • Substance-induced disorders—intoxication, withdrawal, and other substance/medication-induced metal disorders (psychotic disorders, bipolar and related disorders, depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive and related disorders, sleep disorders, sexual dysfunction, delirium, and neurocognitive disorders).

The essential feature of a substance use disorder is a cluster of cognitive, behavioral, and physiological symptoms indicating that the individual continues using the substance despite significant substance-related problems. An important characteristic of this disorder is an underlying change in brain circuits that may persist beyond detoxification, particularly in individuals with severe disorders. The behavioral effects of these brain changes may be exhibited in the repeated relapses and intense drug craving when the individuals are exposed to drug-related stimuli.  

What is substance use disorder?

Substance abuse continues to be one of the most common and serious mental health disorders, with 35% lifetime prevalence in American society. 30-50% of Substance Use Disorders begin in childhood or adolescence. By the end of high school, almost half of adolescents have abused an illicit drug at least once.

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Understanding Substance Use Disorder

The continuum of child and adolescent substance use ranges from non-users, through experimental and casual users, to substance use and induced disorders. Genetics appear to play a role in the development of substance use disorders.

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How is SUD treated?

SUD is treatable and should be matched relative to the severity and intensity of the substance use. If a patient is experiencing severe problems resulting from use, toxicity may require medical monitoring. Thus, intensive inpatient and/or residential treatment are necessary before considering behavioral interventions.

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