Pharmacotherapy of adolescent substance use disorders: A review of the literature

James G. Waxmonsky, Timothy E. Wilens

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Objective: Substance use disorders (SUD) are increasingly conceptualized as developing during adolescence. Moreover, adolescent SUD are viewed as one of the most difficult mental health conditions to treat. The role of pharmacotherapy for adolescents with SUD is not well delineated. We systematically reviewed existing pharmacotherapy studies of adolescent SUD. Methods: A computerized search of the literature addressing the pharmacotherapy of SUD in adolescents was performed. Data from relevant peer-reviewed scientific presentations were also included. Results: Five case reports (n = 8 subjects), six open studies that primarily addressed SUD with comorbid psychiatric disorders (n = 73 subjects), and five placebo-controlled studies (n = 156 subjects) on the pharmacological treatment of youths with SUD were identified. Pharmacological agents appear to reduce comorbid psychopathology with a milder reduction in SUD symptoms. The most robust evidence exists for the treatment of SUD comorbid with affective disorders. There is a limited database supporting the use of agents to reduce substance craving and the preventative effects of pharmacotherapy on subsequent SUD development in adolescents with specific psychiatric disorders. Conclusion: Further controlled studies directed at reducing drug use and craving, and guiding the integration of pharmacotherapy and psychosocial interventions for SUD with the treatment of comorbid psychiatric illness, are necessary.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)810-825
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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