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Understanding Co-Occurring Addiction

Learn about mental health concerns and aggression among children and adolescents

Every young person has trouble controlling their anger sometimes, especially since they are still learning how to regulate their emotions. Some aggressive behaviors, such as occasional temper tantrums or angry outbursts, are part of that development process. But if a child’s or adolescent’s aggressive behaviors start to become a pattern that disrupts their life, it might be a sign that they are suffering from an underlying mental health condition.

Aggression is the clinical term for a behavior that hurts another person, and it can be physical, verbal, or even social. Hitting, pushing, and name-calling are all common forms of aggression among children and adolescents, but other ways that young people might be aggressive toward one another include bullying, gossiping, and spreading rumors through social media. Although all genders can develop aggressive behaviors, male-identifying children and adolescents tend to be more physically aggressive, while female-identifying children and adolescents tend to be more socially aggressive.

If a young person in your care is engaging in aggressive behaviors that harm their ability to function in their day-to-day life, it may be a sign that they are struggling with a mental health condition such as bipolar disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or conduct disorder. Aggression might be a symptom of a mental health challenge, or it could be a young person’s way of coping with the overwhelming symptoms of an untreated mental health condition.

Aggressive behaviors have become a problem for a young person in your care if they are regularly getting in trouble at school, at home, or in other settings. These behaviors may be keeping them from having fulfilling relationships with their friends and succeeding in school and their after-school job. These behaviors might also have uprooted the harmony in their home environment.

Regardless of the cause, a child or adolescent who is struggling with aggressive behaviors needs timely treatment. When a young person receives effective, professional help for aggression, they can learn healthier coping skills so that they can regain control of their behaviors and start living a more fulfilling life.



Statistics about mental health concerns and aggression among children and adolescents

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported the following statistics related to aggression among children and adolescents in the United States:

  • Approximately 4.5 million children and adolescents ages 3-17 have a diagnosed behavior concern.
  • Around a half (53.5%) of young people ages 3-17 receive treatment for the behavior challenges they are struggling with.
  • Behavioral and mental health concerns can start early, with 17.4% of children receiving a diagnosis between the ages of 2 and 8.
  • Children most commonly experience behavior problems that require professional treatment between the ages of 6 and 11.

Causes & Risk Factors

Possible causes of aggression among children and adolescents

If a young person is struggling with aggressive behaviors, it is likely that there is no single factor behind this aggression. Many influences can contribute to a child’s or adolescent’s aggression toward others, including:

  • Difficulty learning to regulate their emotions
  • Family history of aggression or impulsivity
  • Neglectful or abusive home environment
  • History of physical or emotional trauma
  • Inconsistent caregivers or parental figures
  • Exposure to violence in the community
  • Friends who engage in violent or aggressive behaviors

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms of aggression among children and adolescents

In addition to engaging in various aggressive behaviors, a young person may show various signs and symptoms that they are struggling with aggression, including:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Engages in risky sexual behavior
  • Starts to use drugs or alcohol
  • Threatens to hurt, or does hurt, others
  • Steals or engages in other illegal behavior
  • Damages property
  • Bullies or harasses others

Physical symptoms:

  • Physical injuries from accidents or fights
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Changes in appetite

Mental symptoms:

  • Easily frustrated
  • Overly impulsive
  • Frequently loses their temper


Potential effects of aggression among children and adolescents

When a child or adolescent is grappling with aggression, their behavior doesn’t just hurt the people around them. If left untreated, aggression and any associated mental health concerns can have serious long-term effects on a young person’s life, such as:

  • Trouble in school and risk of dropout or expulsion
  • Risk of arrest and incarceration
  • Damaged relationships with friends and family
  • The trauma of harming someone physically or emotionally
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Unplanned pregnancy
  • The potential for developing a substance use disorder

Co-Occurring Disorders

Common co-occurring disorders among children and adolescents who struggle with aggression

It is not uncommon for a young person who exhibits aggression to also struggle with an additional mental health concern, or a co-occurring condition. Common mental health challenges that co-occur among children and adolescents who struggle with aggression include:

  • Intermittent explosive disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Psychotic disorder

While not a comprehensive list, these are a few of the mental health concerns that can co-occur with aggressive behaviors. It is essential for a child or adolescent to receive care for all the challenges they are facing if they are to experience long-term success. By seeking comprehensive, individualized support, a young person in your care can learn to manage the symptoms they are living with so that they can have a brighter, healthier future.

Why Seek Treatment

How Little Creek Behavioral Health in Conway, AR, can help children and adolescents who are struggling with mental health concerns and aggression

Parenting or caring for a young person who is exhibiting aggressive behaviors can be an overwhelming experience, and it might seem like there is nothing you can do to help a child or adolescent in your care learn to regulate their emotions and behaviors. The expert team at Little Creek Behavioral Health has a wealth of experience in helping young people learn to manage aggressive behaviors and teaching them healthier ways to cope with any painful, intense emotions they might be experiencing.

At our residential facility in Conway, Arkansas, we provide developmentally appropriate care with extended-stay options, a specialty track for young people who are deaf or hard of hearing, and educational services that ensure that each young person continues their education while receiving essential programming and services. Our goal is to ensure that each child or adolescent who comes to us for care leaves Little Creek with the resources they need to experience continued success for years to come.

Marks of Quality Care
  • The Joint Commission (JCAHO) Gold Seal of Approval