Clinical characteristics of psychiatrically referred adolescent outpatients with substance use disorder

Timothy E. Wilens, Joseph Biederman, Ana M. Abrantes, Thomas J. Spencer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Scopus citations


Objective: There is increasing interest in the developmental relationship of psychopathology and substance use disorders (SUD) in youths. Because the bulk of literature is focused in inpatient or incarcerated youths, inferences and generalizations are limited in outpatient settings. The clinical characteristics of psychiatrically referred outpatients were studied to determine whether differences existed in the nature and severity of comorbid psychiatric disorders when substance abuse was involved. Method: All diagnoses were derived from structured psychiatric interviews completed on all youths on intake assessment. Adolescents with an identified SUD (n = 38) were compared with those without SUD (n = 321) on a number of variables including past and current psychopathology, cognitive and school functioning, and overall impairment. Results: Eleven percent of referred outpatients (mean age = 15.9 ± 1.3 years) met full criteria for a SUD by parental report. Controlling for age, adolescents with SUD had higher risk for mood and disruptive behavioral disorders compared with psychiatric controls. In the majority of oases, the onset of psychopathology preceded the onset of SUD by at least 1 year. The group with SUD also had lower overall functioning and more school dysfunction and psychiatric hospitalizations than their non-SUD peers. Conclusions: Despite the small number of adolescents with SUD in this sample, these data indicate that SUD is common in outpatient psychiatry referrals. Youths with SUD appear to be at increased risk for more psychopathology and dysfunction in a number of domains.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)941-947
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescent
  • Comorbidity
  • Psychopathology
  • Substance abuse


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