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A new study from Duke University researchers suggests that treating adolescents with major depression comes with an additional long-term benefit: the chance that those adolescents will abuse drugs later in life decreases.

The study spanned five years and followed 192 adolescents; those adolescents were between the ages of 17 and 23 by the end of the study and had no preexisting problems with abusing alcohol or drugs. The participants, who were treated for depression, “had to have 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.”

Of the participants whose depression symptoms receded after 12 weeks of treatment, only 10 percent ended up later abusing drugs. Among those for whom treatment was unsuccessful, 25 percent ended up later abusing drugs.

“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 lead researcher John Curry.

The study did not find the same relationship when it came to combating alcohol abuse among the adolescents.

“When the teenagers got over the depression, about half of them stayed well for the whole five-year period, but almost half of them had a second episode of depression,” Curry said. “And what we found out was that, for those who had both alcohol disorder and another depression, the alcohol disorder almost always came first.”

The researchers said they 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 youths off drugs.”

“It does point out that alcohol use disorders are very prevalent during that particular age period,” Curry said, “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. I think that is definitely a take-home message.”

Source: Duke University

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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