Emerging adulthood is a common and problematic time for alcohol and cannabis use. Emerging adulthood also represents a vulnerable time period for anxiety and depression. Substance use and mental health issues are highly comorbid, yet substance use is commonly neglected in psychiatric care.
The goal of this study was to categorize the cannabis and alcohol use patterns of emerging adults in psychiatric care and to evaluate relationships with use-related problems, psychiatric symptomatology, and motives for use.
Participants were emerging adults who were consecutive admissions to a young adult psychiatric partial hospital program from 2017 to 2018. Of 318 participants who completed questionnaires, 244 (76.7%) reported cannabis and/or alcohol use in the previous month. Cluster analyses and analysis of variance tests were conducted to categorize and differentiate between participants who reported use.
Results from cluster analyses identified 4 categories of use: low cannabis/high alcohol (35.7%), low cannabis/low alcohol (17.6%), high cannabis/low alcohol (29.1%), and high cannabis/high alcohol (17.6%). Individuals in categories with the highest rates of use and co-use reported more alcohol problems (F=24.31, P<0.001), cannabis problems (F=36.75, P<0.001), depression (F=3.60, P=0.01), and motives: social (F=6.12, P<0.001), coping with anxiety (F=20.43, P<0.001), coping with depression (F=17.80, P<0.001), enhancement (F=7.85, P<0.001), and conformity (F=4.92, P<0.01).
Clear categories of substance use emerged. Participants who were heavier users were more likely to use to alleviate psychiatric symptomatology, yet they also reported greater psychiatric symptomatology and use-related problems. Among a psychiatric sample of emerging adults, cannabis and alcohol use was common and problematic. Thus, substance use should be evaluated for and, if present, targeted with interventions during psychiatric care.