How Disruptive Behavior Disorder & Substance Misuse Affect One Another


Sober Recovery Expert Author


Disruptive behavior disorders (DBD) are characterized by problems with self-control including defiance of authority, temper tantrums, aggression, and bullying, according to American Addiction Centers. DBDs, such as intermittent explosive disorder, conduct disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), often co-occur with other mental health conditions like substance use disorders (SUD).

The combination of a SUD and a DBD can not only drastically affect someone's quality of life, but also complicate the treatment process. This means that it's crucial for those with this dual diagnosis and their loved ones to learn as much as possible about how these two conditions impact each other and the behaviors of the one with the conditions, in order to know the best approaches for treatment.

The combination of a SUD and a DBD can not only drastically affect someone's quality of life, but also complicate the treatment process.

How Substance Abuse Affects DBD

Substance use can impact the way someone expresses a DBD. DBDs are typically associated with low patience, impulsivity, and poor self-regulation. Also, many drugs of abuse reduce emotional regulation and judgment which, when combined with DBD symptoms, can create more intense and numerous effects such as aggression, anger, and recklessness. Therefore, alcohol and other drugs can increase undesirable behaviors linked to DBDs.

Statistics: DBDs and Addiction

Due to the frequent co-occurrence of DBDs and addiction, there is plenty of research examining the relationship between these two types of mental disorders. Statistics and findings worthy of note regarding the relationship between DBDs and SUDs reveal that:

  • Youth who use alcohol and other drugs are 4 times as likely to develop a DBD than young people without a DBD.
  • Children and adolescents with a DBD are nearly 6 times as likely to develop a SUD than youth without a DBD.
  • Adolescents with co-occurrence of a SUD and a DBD are more resistant to treatment and exhibit higher rates of substance use 12 months after treatment.

Do DBDs Lead to Drug Abuse?

Many parents, researchers, and those with a DBD wonder if the condition can lead to a higher risk of substance use. The answer appears to be yes. It seems that DBDs contribute to not only higher rates of drug use but also early involvement with substance use by adolescents.

It's uncertain why the connection exists, but it's most likely due to issues controlling impulsivity and emotions in those with a DBD. Those with conditions like conduct disorder and ODD will strive to defy social norms and break rules, and substance abuse is a powerful way to do this.

The Development of DBDs in Children

Drug use, misuse, and addiction have a significant impact on the development of DBDs throughout generations. One study, published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, found that sons of fathers with alcohol use disorder (AUD) exhibited elevated levels of disruptive behavior problems that became worse over time.

In addition, research suggests that children of alcoholics tend to be highly emotionally driven than children of non-alcoholics.

"The personality category that appears to be the most associated with being a child of an alcoholic is that of impulsivity/disinhibition, which encompasses traits such as sensation seeking, aggressiveness and impulsivity," according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). "These same traits also appear to be those that are most associated with the development of alcoholism, suggesting that these personality characteristics might represent important mediators of the intergenerational transmission of alcoholism."

Further, it's common for children of alcoholics to develop substance misuse or addiction, even as early as the school-age level. This could be due to the interpreted normalcy of drugs and alcohol in their home, or it may be that the child sees substance use as a coping mechanism for their disorderly home life.

Treatment for Co-Occurring DBDs and SUDs

Treatment for co-occurring conditions is always more complex than treatment for only one disorder. Because each condition impacts the other, those with co-occurring conditions and treatment professionals need to focus on a comprehensive and holistic approach to treatment for the co-occurrence of a DBD and a SUD to achieve the best results.

This could include inpatient substance abuse treatment, counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, and medication treatment, among others. Because treatment for co-occurring conditions is more complicated than treating a single condition doesn't mean that successful treatment isn't possible.

If you or someone you know is seeking help from addiction, please visit our directory of treatment centers or call 800-891-8171 to speak to a treatment specialist.

Stay Connected
Subscribe to our newsletter to get addiction help, recovery inspiration and community tips delivered to your inbox.
No Thanks. I'm not Interested