Methamphetamine use in young people tied to complex behavioural issues, study shows

Methamphetamine use in young people tied to complex behavioural issues, study shows

8 November 2023

Young people who use methamphetamine were 13 times more likely to have conduct disorder compared to those who did not use methamphetamine, a new Orygen study has found.

Conduct disorder is a condition involving serious behavioural problems like aggression, destruction of property, and truancy. These young people were also more likely to be impulsive, involved with the youth justice system, and have problems at school.

In 2022, an estimated 95,000 young Australians aged 4-17 years were reported to have a conduct disorder in Australia.(1)

The study published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, aimed to understand the impact of methamphetamine use on young people aged 10 to 25 years old.

Researchers reviewed 66 studies to comprehensively assess the health, functional, and cognitive outcomes associated with methamphetamine use in this age group.

Lead author and Orygen Research Fellow, Dr Alex Guerin, said the study found that young people who use methamphetamine face significant challenges.

“Methamphetamine use often starts in adolescence and young adulthood, but outcomes linked with methamphetamine use in young people are not well understood.

“We wanted to examine all available evidence about health and other outcomes in young people who use methamphetamine, to better understand the needs of this group.” 

In terms of cognitive effects, the study found that inhibitory control – the ability to control impulses – was consistently impaired in young people who use methamphetamine.

This means they may have difficulty controlling their actions and behaviours, Dr Guerin explained.

“The findings of our research highlight that young people with methamphetamine use are a very vulnerable population with a real risk of experiencing ongoing and life altering complex behavioural issues.”

Dr Guerin emphasised that the study's clinical implications were important.

“It highlights the need for targeted interventions and treatments for young people who use methamphetamine.

“Early onset of methamphetamine use during adolescence and young adulthood is a particularly vulnerable period, and understanding the negative outcomes associated with it can help develop better support and prevention strategies.

“Early intervention and new treatments that target young people who use methamphetamine are critical to reducing the high burden of its use and improving the emotional and functional outcomes of this at-risk group of young people,” Dr Guerin said.

Orygen is currently undertaking several studies testing potential new medications to help young people manage their methamphetamine use. Learn more here.

1. Lawrence D, Johnson S, Hafekost J, Boterhoven de Haan K, Sawyer M, Ainley J and Zubrick SR (2015). The Mental Health of Children and Adolescents. Report on the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Wellbeing. Department of Health, Canberra, September 2023.