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Treating for Depression Can Prevent Teen Drug Abuse

By JANICE WOOD Associate News Editor Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on June 5, 2012

Treating adolescents for depression can reduce their chances of abusing drugs later on, new research has found.

Researchers at Duke University found that only 10 percent of 192 adolescents whose depression receded after 12 weeks of treatment later abused drugs, compared to 25 percent of those for whom treatment did not work.

“It turned out that whatever they responded to — cognitive-behavioral therapy, Prozac, both treatments, or a placebo — if they did respond within 12 weeks they were less likely to develop a drug-use disorder,” said Dr. John Curry, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke.

The researchers followed nearly half of the 439 participants from the Treatment for Adolescents with Depression Study, led by John March, M.D., chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center, which is considered the largest sample of adolescents who have been treated for major depression.

The participants analyzed by Curry’s study were between the ages of 17 and 23 at the end of the five-year follow-up study and had no preexisting problems with abusing alcohol or drugs.

The adolescents must have had at least five symptoms for a length of time to be diagnosed with major depression prior to treatment: depressed mood; loss of interest; disruptions in appetite, sleep or energy; poor concentration; worthlessness; and suicidal thoughts or behavior.

The researchers believe that improved mood regulation due to medicine or skills learned in cognitive-behavior therapy, along with support and education that came with all of the treatments, may have played key roles in keeping the kids off drugs.

The researchers were surprised to find there were no differences in alcohol abuse among the participants — and they admit they do not have an answer for why. Curry thinks the prevalence of alcohol use among people ages 17-23 may be a factor.

“It does point out that alcohol use disorders are very prevalent during that particular age period and there’s a need for a lot of prevention and education for college students to avoid getting into heavy drinking and then the beginnings of an alcohol disorder,” Curry said. “I think that is definitely a take-home message.”

Alcohol abuse also led to repeat bouts with depression for some participants, he said.

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