Information on Adolescent Drug Treatment

Created On Thursday, 04, February 2016
Modified On Friday, 01, October 2021


This is a picture of a mother with her teenage daughterAcross the United States, teens addicted to drugs or alcohol struggle with an adult issue. However, the psychological and emotional needs of teens differ from adults. Drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers for teens provide specific treatment resources. There are numerous options across the United States tailored to help teens and their parents overcome addiction and all the associated problems. The programs are designed to address teen addiction, provide ongoing recovery, and build health home environments for the whole family. There are countless reasons why teens struggle with addiction; teen drug use is common among adolescents of all ages.

Teen rehabilitation programs are available to provide treatment for young adolescents and teens that are 18 or 19 years old. Some of the common reasons teens abuse drugs is because of peer pressure and social influence. Through Junior High School, High School, and College, there is influence and peer pressure to use drugs or alcohol. Most teens avoid these problems, but many teens fall victim to substance abuse and addiction. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, among adolescents aged 12 to 17, approximately 1.4 million teens initiated marijuana use in the past year. Also, approximately 670,000 teens initiated cocaine use. When teens begin to experiment with drugs and alcohol, it could quickly turn into a dangerous addiction.

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Teens tend to abuse drugs like alcohol, prescription drugs, and inhalants or hallucinogens. Among adolescents aged 12 to 17, approximately 381,000 teens initiated inhalant use in the past year, which was higher than in 2016 and 2017. Many teens abuse illegal substances for an escape or to self-medicate. When teens grow up in an abusive household or struggle with mental health issues, they may turn to drugs or alcohol as a solution. There is also the problem with academic or performance pressure when going to school. Many teens face pressure from their parents and struggle to manage this, which drives them to drugs. Also, there are issues with coping with trauma, anxiety, depression, or other issues; drugs become an easy way to escape.

Because teens are connected to social media, they are easily influences, and some studies have shown that teens who see drug and alcohol use are more likely to engage in those behaviors. There are countless dangers associated with teen substance use, and experimentation can become teen addiction. Drug use at a young age can also impact the likelihood of adult addiction. Most teens who begin using drugs or alcohol continue this drug use into their adult life.

Common Problems Associated with Teen Substance Abuse

Teens who use alcohol and drugs are more likely to have a substance use disorder as an adult. Early to late adolescence is considered a critical risk period for the beginning of alcohol and drug use. Also, there is a clear link between issues with anxiety and depression and substance abuse. According to the Monitoring the Future Survey, 24.5% of 8th graders, 43% of 10th graders, and 58% of 12th graders used alcohol. Alcohol abuse is a common problem among teens and generally progressed into more serious substance abuse. Also, 47% of 12-grade students had used illicit drugs, and the most common were marijuana, prescription drugs, and alcohol.

Teen drug abuse also has the risk for fatal and non-fatal overdose, and the rates are high when alcohol and prescription drugs are mixed together. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 67,300 Americans died of an overdose in 2018, and close to 72,000 had died in 2019. Drug overdose deaths have continued to rise year after year until 2018, where they declined and then rose again in 2019. Parents need to be aware of their teen's drug use and look for the indicators. Early intervention is crucial and saves lives—families can perform interventions at any time, and there is no bad time to organize an intervention. Overall, adolescents have different treatment needs than older substance abusers. Along with the problems associated with addiction and withdrawal, many young people need help with education, co-occurring disorders, family life, and other issues.

When is Substance Abuse Treatment for Adolescents the Right Approach?

Most teens do not recognize the risks of using drugs or alcohol. According to the same National Survey on Drug Use and Health mentioned earlier, approximately 34.6% of teens perceived great risk from smoking marijuana weekly, which declined from 40% in 2015. Overall, adolescents' perception of great risk of harm from substance use alcohol declined from 2015 to 2019. Substance abuse for adolescents is ideal at any time, and there is no bad time to intervene and get an addict's help. Parents play a critical role in their children's lives and will worry about new risks they may experience. A common risk is the use of substances, such as alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, and other drugs. Parents need to talk to their teens about drug use and know the signs.

The best approach to help teens struggling with addiction is by having a loving conversation and talk to them about the risks of substance abuse and addiction. Also, parents should provide information about drugs and alcohol and educate their teens about what drugs look like and how they affect a person. Knowledge is important, and this is part of early intervention, which prevents teens from abusing drugs or alcohol. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco are substances most commonly used by adolescents. Also, by 12th grade, about two-thirds of students have tried alcohol. Moreover, about half of 9th through 12th-grade students reported ever having used marijuana. Among 12th grade students, close to 2 in 10 reported using prescription drugs without a prescription.

Substance abuse treatment programs for teens are specifically designed to meet the needs of adolescents. These programs provide proper care and support for teens and their families. When parents begin to notice the signs of addiction, it is important to intervene. Substance abuse affects the growth and development of teens, especially brain development. Teens will begin to engage in risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex and dangerous driving. Drug and alcohol abuse among teens also contributes to the development of adult health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and sleep disorders.

How Does Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment Operate?

There are numerous treatment programs to help teens and their parents, and behavioral rehabilitation programs are the best options, along with adventure or wilderness therapy programs. Most teen substance abuse treatment centers are residential programs that offer services for three to six months or longer. Lengthy treatment is the best option because teens have the opportunity to manage all aspects of their addiction. Research-based treatment is the most common approach, and these are evidence-based approaches and support. Treatment facilities combine scientific evidence and knowledge from personal experiences to create programs that work for addicts and their families.

The rehabilitation process is similar to any other, and typically detox is the first step to take. Teens have access to medically supervised detox and conventional detox programs. Typically, the severity of addiction and accompanying withdrawal symptoms determine what method of detox is required. Medical programs are not common for teens but would manage prescription drug addiction like opioid addiction. Conventional detox programs are typically attached to most inpatient treatment centers and manage most forms of street drug addiction. However, detox should not be considered the only treatment approach to take. Following detox, the next phase of rehabilitation involves inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation.

Types of Therapy for Teens Struggling with Addiction

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a common approach used to help teens, and this helps patients identify negative thoughts and behaviors, which often lead to addiction. Patients attend group and individual therapy sessions to understand better personal and environmental triggers that lead to addiction. Motivational techniques and methods are also used, such as motivational interviewing. This therapy process helps patients realize the need for change because young people may struggle with personal identity. Individuals are helped to accept their feelings and learn how to modify them and gain the motivation to stop using drugs.

Teens can also access community, family, and peer support because many moments in a young adult's life are stressful. Some of the stressful moments include starting a new school, entering college, moving out of the family home for the first time, and starting a job. After rehab, teens need to remain surrounded by support and other sober people. Supportive environments positively impact recovery for teens and young adults. Also, substance abuse addiction impacts the whole family, and family-based approaches may improve the overall quality of life and enhance recovery.

Adolescents also benefit from wilderness therapy, which is a treatment strategy for adolescents with maladaptive behaviors. Wilderness programs combine therapy with challenging experiences in an outdoor wilderness environment. The goal of wilderness therapy is to provide therapeutic assessment, intervention, and treatment of problem behaviors, safety and stabilization, and lasting change. Wilderness therapy offers a radical change of environment, challenging experiences, healthy relationship development, therapy, and teaching healthy coping strategies. There are countless benefits with wilderness therapy, and it has proven to be a successful approach in helping addicts overcome addiction.

What are the alternatives to Teen Drug Rehab Programs?

Teen substance abuse treatment provides many different options to help adolescents and their families. Again, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, among adolescents aged 12 to 17 in 2019, 0.7% received substance use treatment in the past year. When compared to 2015 and 2018, the estimates are similar. Among adolescents who had a past year substance use disorder, only 8.3% received any form of treatment. When searching for drug and alcohol treatment centers, an addiction assessment is a good place to begin. The assessment process is essential and could be done over the phone or in-person. The purpose of an assessment is to determine the extent of addiction and what treatment methods are available.

Motivational enhancement therapy is often an alternative approach used, and this involves one to three therapy sessions inspiring teens to take part in substance use treatment. Teens can also access adolescent community reinforcement approaches, which is an intervention method that helps replace negative environment factors with healthy ones. Contingency management is a treatment system using instant, real rewards to encourage positive, healthy behavior. Family-based therapies are also provided, and these are often conducted in outpatient settings. Teens remain under parental supervision and receive emotional support while undergoing substance use treatment.

Family-based therapies are also provided through outpatient treatment. These are therapy sessions improving communication skills between teens and parents. The goal of family therapy is to create a healthier, drug-free home environment. Brief strategic family therapy involves twelve to sixteen therapy sessions working with families, while multidimensional family therapy provides community-based treatment for troubled or violent teens. Some alternatives for recovery support include assertive continuing care, which is a doctor-assisted recovery program that helps teens build problem-solving and communication skills among recovering teens. Peer recovery support services are community centers for recovering teens. Recovery support is also provided to teens within high school.

Common Terminology Surrounding Adolescent Drug Rehab

Term Definition
Motivational Enhancement Therapy is a therapy process that inspires teens to take part in drug addiction treatment. The therapy process is paired with other therapy methods to motivate teens to plan for recovery.
Adolescent Community Reinforcement Approach Typically used as an intervention method to help replace negative environmental factors with healthy ones. An approach used to help teens living in dangerous environments.
Contingency Management a common treatment approach used to rewards healthy behaviors and focusses on improving teens' support systems.
Family Behavioral Therapy therapy sessions improving communication between families and addicts. The goal is to create a healthier family dynamic and improves family relationships.
Brief Strategic Family Therapy therapy sessions targeting drug abuse in the family and provides counseling to family members and addicts.
Multidimensional Family Therapy community-based treatment and support for troubled or violent teens. The programs connect families with a school or the juvenile justice system.
Inhalants are volatile substances that produce chemical vapors that can be inhaled. These are common household products that are easily accessible by teens.
Hallucinogens these drugs are a diverse group of substances that alter a person's awareness of their surroundings as well as their own thoughts and feelings. Teens commonly abuse hallucinogens as a recreational drug.
Synthetic Marijuana synthetic cannabinoids, K2, or Spice are man-made mind-altering chemicals that are sprayed or dried on the shredded plant material so it can be smoked. Teens commonly use K2 or Spice.
Vaping is inhaling of a vapor created by an electronic cigarette or other vaping device and is common amount teens, especially with marijuana and tobacco-based products.


Marcel Gemme, DATS - Author

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Marcel Gemme has been helping people struggling with addiction for over 19 years. He first started as an intake counselor for a drug rehabilitation center in 2000. During his 5 years as an intake counselor, he helped many addicts get the treatment they needed. He also dealt with the families and friends of those people; he saw first-hand how much strain addiction puts on a family and how it can tear relationships apart. With drug and alcohol problems constantly on the rise in the United States and Canada, he decided to use the Internet as a way to educate and help many more people in both those countries. This was 15 years ago. Since then, Marcel has built two of the largest websites in the U.S. and Canada which reach and help millions of people each year. He is an author and a leader in the field of drug and alcohol addiction. His main focus is threefold: education, prevention and rehabilitation. To this day, he still strives to be at the forefront of technology in order to help more and more people. He is a Licensed Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist graduate with Honours of Stratford Career Institute. Marcel has also received a certificate from Harvard for completing a course entitled The Opioid Crisis in America and a certificate from The University of Adelaide for completing a course entitled AddictionX: Managing Addiction: A Framework for Succesful Treatment.

Michael Leach, CCMA - Medically Reviewed on October 1, 2021

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Michael Leach is a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant, who has over 5 years of experience working in the field of addiction. He spent his career working under the board-certified Addictionologist Dr. Rohit Adi. His experience includes working with families during their loved one’s stay in treatment, helping those with substance abuse issues find treatment, and teaching life skills to patients in a recovery atmosphere. Though he has worked in many different areas of rehabilitation, the majority of his time was spent working one on one with patients who were actively withdrawing from drugs. Withdrawal and the fear of going through it is one biggest reason why an addict continues to use and can be the most difficult part of the rehabilitation process. His experience in the withdrawal atmosphere has taught him that regardless of what approach a person takes to get off drugs, there are always mental and emotional obstacles that need to be overcome. He believes having someone there to help a person through these obstacles can make all the difference during the withdrawal process.