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Principles of Teen Addiction Treatment

Teen boy receiving addiction treatment from a doctor    

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition characterizes substance use disorder (SUD) as being “based on evidence of impaired control, social impairment, risky use, and pharmacological criteria.” Colloquially, people who are diagnosed with SUD are known as drug addicts or alcoholics.

Millions of teenagers in the U.S. have been diagnosed with an SUD. However, treatment plans and approaches for adolescents are different than those of adults who are addicted to alcohol or drugs.

To delineate teen substance abuse treatment from regimens recommended for adults, the National Institute on Drug Abuse published “Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research-Based Guide.” Based on that publication, here are ten underlying principles which should guide teen addiction treatment.

  1. Substance abuse should be identified and addressed as soon as possible. Because the adolescent brain is still developing, any delay in seeking treatment for substance abuse is more likely to lead to permanent problems in adulthood.
  2. Doctors or nurses should inquire about drug use during routine medical examinations. This is usually done using standardized questionnaires. If substance use is reported, the health care professional can assess the severity and recommend treatment if needed.
  3. Drug abuse interventions are effective even with teens who are not addicted to a substance. If a teen is just “experimenting” with drugs or alcohol, he or she can still benefit from an intervention in order to prevent dependence or addiction in the future.
  4. Both familial pressure and the threat of legal consequences are effective strategies to encourage teens to seek substance abuse treatment. Even if they feel coerced, teenagers will usually enter, complete, and be helped by treatment.
  5. Every SUD treatment should be customized for the individual patient. There is no one-size-fits-all model for teenage substance abuse treatment. Because every teen is different, every treatment plan should be unique as well.
  6. Any related or co-occurring health issues should also be addressed during a teenager’s drug treatment. Steps should be taken to treat mental health conditions, mood disorders, and conduct problems. Also, teens struggling with addiction should be screened for HIV and hepatitis B and C, all of which are common in substance abusers.

Teen addiction treatment

  1. Treatment should not focus solely on the substance being abused, but rather the entire person. A teen’s life needs, history of abuse or trauma, social well-being, psychological health, and logistical issues (like transportation and legal services) should all be taken into account when a treatment plan is being designed.
  2. Behavioral therapies and family/community support are valuable tools in the fight against teen drug addiction. Trained clinicians can help teens embrace new habits and incentives to keep them from returning to substance abuse, while additional support from family members and community members (like school counselors, mentors, or pastors) improves the chances of a successful recovery.
  3. Even during SUD treatment, drug use should still be closely monitored. Relapses are common among addicts, even those who are undergoing treatment. Efforts should be made to remove or address any triggers which may push addicts back toward drug abuse.
  4. A few days of drug treatment will not get the job done. A treatment plan that is measured in weeks or months is usually necessary for teens to achieve a positive outcome, and the threat of relapse diminishes if follow-up care is also provided after treatment has been completed.

These principles have been backed by a large volume of research, which is why credentialed treatment centers and drug rehabilitation facilities design their plans and regimens with these values in mind. They also provide or affiliate with health care, family, mental health, educational, vocational, and legal services so that every teen can receive the support and care he or she needs to battle the SUD. Though the road is difficult, teen addiction can be overcome with the help of therapists, doctors, parents, and community members working together toward a single goal: teen sobriety.

If your teen is abusing drugs or alcohol, contact us for more information about treatment or rehab options.

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