Teen Drug Treatment Approaches

The teen years can be among life’s most confusing times – and as a result, many young people can become vulnerable to the siren song of alcohol and other drugs.

Many young people view drug use as a relatively harmless, recreational “rite of passage,” but the truth is much more dangerous than these misguided youth would like to believe. Among the risks related to drug abuse by adolescents and teens are a drop in academic performance, strained relationships with family members and friends, the potential for developing addiction later in life, a wide range of negative health consequences, and the possibility of being arrested and prosecuted.

Drug use can result from a variety of causes, including curiosity, peer pressure, and an attempt to numb oneself to the effects of pressure, stress, or other emotional pain. Using drugs is always cause for concern, but among young people it is a definite warning sign that should never be ignored. Whether the alarm is sounded by a parent, teacher, family member, or friend, what is of primary importance is that young people who are using alcohol or other drugs get professional help as soon as possible.  

Getting Help

Few teens voluntarily seek help for their drug use, so it is essential that those who care about them remain vigilant for the signs and symptoms that could indicate involvement with alcohol or other drugs. Parents are obviously in the best position to monitor teen behavior, and shouldn’t let complaints from their children stand in the way of knowing where they are, who they are with, and what they are doing. By keeping close tabs on their teens’ whereabouts and activities, parents will be poised to step in as soon as events dictate.

According to the Adolescent Substance Abuse Knowledge Base, the following signs could indicate that a teen is involved in substance abuse:

  • A dramatic decline in academic performance (indicated by sudden a lack of interest in school and a precipitous drop in grades
  • Habitually skipping school or making excuses (too tired, too sick) to stay home
  • Dramatic mood swings (from euphoria to depression; sudden outbursts of irritability)
  • A lack of interest in activities that were previously important (such as school, music, hobbies, sports, or other extracurricular activities)
  • Changes in appearance (suddenly adopting a new “style,” or beginning to neglect basic hygiene and grooming)
  • The “disappearance” of old friends, and a habit of associating with new peers who are never introduced to parents
  • Emphasis on secrecy (won’t say where he’s going or where he’s been; stays in room with door locked for extended periods of time)
  • Unusual sleeping and eating habits
  • A pattern of lying or evasive behavior
  • Emotional distancing, constant fatigue, and depressive episodes

Teens who exhibit these behaviors may have a substance abuse problem. And the sooner they get help, the greater their chances of overcoming this challenge.

The Benefits of Treatment

Depending upon the unique nature of the teen in question and the degree to which substance abuse has impacted her life, treatment options range can include participation in a 12-step support program, outpatient therapy, hospitalization, or a stay in a residential treatment facility. Most likely, a combination of some or all of approaches these will be utilized.

Whenever a parent or other family member is evaluating the options for treating a drug-dependent teen, it is essential that the program be capable of addressing the specific needs of the patient, and not be simply a “one size fits all” program.

Regardless of what approach a family ultimately decides to take, many treatment programs for adolescent and teens incorporate the following components:

  • Detoxification: Recovery cannot begin until a person is free from the substances he was abusing or addicted to. For some patients, detox (a safe, medically supervised process for weaning the person off of drugs or alcohol) is the first step.

  • Residential Treatment: Some teens require 24-hour supervision to ensure that they don’t use drugs. For these people, residential treatment is often the ideal option, as the teens are taught how to stay drug-free in an environment that emphasizes both support and accountability. Many residential treatment facilities offer individual and group therapy, 12-step programs, relapse prevention instruction, academics, and a range of other therapeutic opportunities.
  • Intensive Outpatient Program: Intensive outpatient programs provide maximum support and supervision for teens who are living at home (some of whom have already completed a period of residential treatment, others who have not). Outpatient programs emphasize the development of a strong support network, which may include family members, friends, and participation in a 12-step or similar recovery support program.

  • Aftercare/continuing care: One of the most important parts of any recovery or rehabilitation program is the degree to which it prepares the patient to resist relapse and pursue lifelong recovery. Family support, alumni support, and other sources of motivation and supervision often play an important role in the aftercare portion of a substance abuse recovery program for teens and adolescents.