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Social Anxiety Linked to Teen Substance Abuse

A study finds teens with anxiety disorder are more likely to abuse drugs at an earlier age.

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By Valerie Tejeda

05/07/13

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Suffering from anxiety can make teens more prone to abusing substances at an earlier age, new research shows. Researchers followed 195 teens, aged 14 to 18, who met the criteria for substance use disorder; they found that those with panic disorder or social anxiety had a greater chance of abusing substances at an earlier age. The most commonly used drug among the test group was pot, with 92% of participants being marijuana dependent (beginning at 13 on average), and 61% being alcohol dependent. Teens with social anxiety disorder were "significantly more likely" to smoke pot, and started using the drug at an average age of 10.6 years—2.2 years earlier than the rest of the group. In addition, 75% of alcohol-dependent teens also experienced panic disorder, which mostly set in prior to their substance abuse. "Adolescents are more likely to have social and mental disorders that make them more likely to use drugs," says Dr. Patrick Bordeaux, a child psychologist who was not involved with the study. Though the study was conducted with a limited group, the results indicate that early treatment programs for anxiety may help prevent substance abuse. "This finding surprised us," says lead researcher Alexandra Wang. "It shows we need to start earlier with prevention of drug and alcohol use and treatment of social phobia [in children]."

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