A new study states that juveniles who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are at 67 per cent higher risk of turning to substance abuse. These delinquent youngsters are likely to need care which comprises of trauma and family therapy along with community-based services.
The study was conducted to identify the elements which predict the entry of juvenile youths into substance abuse treatment and figure out those who would get more advantage from early interventions.
"It's quite shocking, honestly and really speaks to the lasting impact of early childhood trauma," Davis stated.
PTSD refers to a mental disorder caused by exposure to traumatic instances such as warfare, sexual assault, among others. Previously conducted studies reveal that 30 per cent people in criminal justice system have PTSD symptoms.
"The high proportion of juvenile offenders with PTSD and co-occurring drug/alcohol problems demands a rethinking of current approaches to substance use treatment," said lead author Jordan Davis.
The study was conducted by the researchers of University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. There were 1,350 partakers in the study. Teenagers, between 14 and 18 years of age, convicted with a serious offence were analysed for seven years.
The researchers scrutinised the social-ecological reasons of the entry of these participants into substance abuse treatment. Four factors were focused on: teens' behaviour, peer influences, parental dynamics and neighbourhood characteristics.
"When you look at these factors separately, you will find what you want to find. But when you consider all of these factors together, things look quite different," Davis added.
"Parental factors, oddly enough, had no influence on risk for treatment entry, while associating with deviant peers, being diagnosed with PTSD and having emotion-regulation problems increased these youths' risk of entering treatment the most," he added.
The findings of the research also suggested clinicians to assume that most of the juveniles who require substance abuse treatment must have faced physical or emotional trauma.
"PTSD has a dramatic and lasting impact on individuals' stress-response system, triggering their brains to secrete excess cortisol whenever they encounter stressors," Davis said.
Experiencing chronic stress makes children prone to many other problems by affecting brain's functioning and chemistry.
"Trauma also blunts the development of the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with decision-making and impulse control. As a result, individuals who experience more trauma and stress may respond differently to social situations," said co-author Joey Merrin.
The researchers found that youngsters with poor impulse or urge control and emotion regulation problems were more likely to enter alcohol or drug treatment compared with peers who had stable temperaments.
"Among our sample of high-risk juvenile offenders, it seems that those teens who were most impulsive and emotionally labile were most likely to end up in treatment for substance use problems," said co-author Eric F Wagner, a professor of social work at Florida International University.
The researchers also found that when affiliating with more number of deviant friends, the possibility of substance abuse treatment increased by 43 per cent.
The researchers revealed that after the treatment gets over, personalised resources should be provided to maintain reductions in drug utilisation and criminal behaviour.
The study was published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment on October 6.