This paper deals with research which makes links between developmental problems such as language-learning disorders, attentional disorders, and behaviour disturbance on the one hand, and risk for misuse of alcohol and other drugs (AOD) in adolescence on the other. Poor academic performance is frequently cited as a risk for adolescent AOD misuse, however few workers have critically examined the role of linguistically-based academic sub-skills (e.g., oral and written language competence; strong social skills) which normally contribute to academic success, and hence operate as protective factors with respect to risk for AOD misuse. Studies which specifically address language skills and their association with risk for AOD misuse are reviewed, as are investigations which deal with patterns of comorbidity which are typically evident in clinical populations. Particular emphasis is placed on comorbidities between language-learning difficulties on the one hand, and behavioural or attentional disorders, on the other. It is argued that more explicitly investigating and intervening at the level of core language/social skill competencies might serve to strengthen protective factors in vulnerable groups. It is also noted that comorbid problems need to be considered as important covariates in studies of language disordered children and adolescents, rather than being treated as exclusionary criteria.