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Dealing with a teen who may have a drug abuse issue is overwhelming and stressful. This is not a journey to tackle alone. Teens dealing with drug abuse are struggling with a difficult adult-like problem; however, they’re biologically and psychologically very young. It’s important to work with professionals who can navigate the ins and outs of young biology and adult issues while providing individualized care that helps the teen and the family.
Why Teens Are Likely to Try Drugs
Developing a drug abuse issue is more likely during the teenage years for a few reasons. Biologically, the brain is still forming and the portion of the brain responsible for decision-making and impulse control is vulnerable. Socially, peer pressure during this stage of life is exceptionally difficult. As teens try to navigate friendships and social circles, teens will use drugs to “fit in” with their drug-using colleagues. Many teens will use drugs to help cope with mental health issues such as anxiety, stress, depression. Drug use will continue if the mental health issue is never properly addressed which is very common. Other teens use drugs because they think drugs will help them “do better” in competitive situations like sports or exams. Some teens simply like to experiment and try new experiences, and drugs present an opportunity to try something different.
No matter the reason why teens try drugs, the fact of the matter is that they do at alarmingly high rates. According to a comprehensive report on adolescent substance abuse disorder by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 70 percent of teens have tried alcohol by their senior year in high school, 50 percent have used an illegal drug, 20 percent have recreationally used a prescription drug, and 40 percent have smoked a cigarette.
Teens Have an Increased Chance of Addiction
Although there is no one cause that leads to drug addiction, the earlier drug use begins, the more likely it is for an addiction to develop (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2018). It is crucial that teen drug use is addressed properly and as soon as possible, and that appropriate treatments are discussed and implemented.
This is critical to remember: a teen does not have to be addicted to a drug in order to benefit from a drug abuse intervention. Intervening before an addiction develops is the preferred situation.
Factors to Consider When Determining Drug Treatment Type for Teens
Teen treatment programs are highly tailored and must often address issues in addition to drug abuse such as mental health, environmental situations, and family history.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) recommends using the following factors to determine the longevity and type of drug treatment program for teens:
- Level of intoxication and potential for withdrawal
- Presence of other medical conditions
- Presence of other emotional, behavioral, or cognitive conditions
- Readiness or motivation to change
- Risk of relapse or continued drug use
- Recovery environment (e.g., family, peers, school, legal system)
Taking these factors into consideration is critical, and the most important thing is that the program is strong enough and long enough to be effective.
Types of Treatment Programs for Teens and Young Adults
Depending on the level of drug abuse, the family and teen’s decision, and the recommendation of drug recovery professionals, a teen might participate in an outpatient, inpatient, or partial hospitalization drug treatment program.
Outpatient programs are most common among adolescents. They allow the teen to continue with other activities like school, and they vary in intensity level. Some require participation one to two times a week, and more intense programs require participation three or more times a week for multiple hours each day. Outpatient therapy is usually recommended for teens who have a supportive living environment.
Inpatient rehab programs are common for teens with severe levels of drug addiction. Teens who suffer from mental health issues and/or other medical issues in addition to their drug addiction may require this level of 24-hour care. Many of these programs involve a “therapeutic community” approach that focuses on building coping skills, and personal and social responsibilities while resocializing the teen back into the community.
Partial hospitalization programs are intended for adolescents who have good home environments but require a more intense level of care than outpatient programs can offer. These programs typically require participation in treatment at least five days a week for five to six hours a day.
Common Treatment Approaches to Teen Drug Abuse
Much research has been done to determine what type of treatment is most effective for teens and young adults. The following approaches are commonly used to address multiple issues related to adolescent drug use, including family concerns, medical issues, and environmental triggers.
In behavioral-based therapies like group therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and motivational enhancement therapy, therapists work with the teen to modify attitudes and behaviors related to drug use and help them find ways to cope with environmental situations that may trigger drug cravings. Therapists may also work with the family to improve communication and develop skills to help them in stressful situations and provide supportive environments.
This approach heavily involves family members (parents, siblings, and sometimes peers), and addresses their importance in the teen’s drug abuse rehabilitation and recovery. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this approach is quite comprehensive and generally addresses a variety of issues including family conflict, mental health, learning disorders, peer situations, and any other behavioral issues. It can be a very effective approach in both a less intense outpatient setting or a more intense residential setting. Types of family-based approaches include family behavioral therapy, multidimensional family therapy, and functional family therapy.
Some practitioners will use medications to help during the drug detoxification period. This is more common for older teens since there is still a lot of research needed to determine the safety and neurobiological impact of these medications for people under 18. Medications are sometimes used for those who deal with opioid, nicotine, or alcohol addictions (very rarely). There are no FDA-approved medications to treat addictions to cocaine, cannabis, or methamphetamine at any age.
Recovery Support Services
Drug addiction is a relapsing disease; it’s important to consider including recovery support into the treatment plan. Recovery support programs are generally community-based and individuals support one another help manage their struggles. The goal is to support a substance-free lifestyle. Peer recovery support groups and 12-step programs are examples.
Do Not Undertreat the Drug Abuse Disorder
Many families don’t know where to start if they suspect someone they love has a drug abuse issue. The most important thing to know is that this is not something you should face alone. There is help available, and there are professionals who work with this every day. Undertreating the disorder or not treating it at all will only lead to a more difficult path ahead.
Call a professional at the Beach House today and get answers. Work with someone to make sure you have a quality treatment program that considers all aspects of the recovery process for your loved one and the family. With comprehensive care, teens and young adults can achieve lasting recovery.