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Counseling and Therapy

Teen Addiction & Therapy

While many teens love to talk, there are some things teens don’t seem eager to discuss. And sometimes, those are the things adolescents really should be discussing.

Teens with addictions, for example, may not feel comfortable with the idea of discussing their troubles with adults. That might be why only approximately 10 percent of teens with addictions get help in a treatment program, according to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Those teens who do enroll in treatment may find that they’re asked to do a whole lot of talking about addiction. Those conversations could give them the keys they’ll need to stay sober, and healthier, in the future.

Traditional Addiction Counseling

When detox programs are complete, teens are technically sober. They don’t have active drugs running through their veins, and they have a few weeks of persistent sobriety behind them.

Dealing with the urge to use drugs involves a very specific toolkit involving:
  • Situation assessment, or the ability to determine what people, places, and things pose a risk to sobriety
  • Impulse control, or the ability to resist the urge to do something now
  • Cost/benefit planning, or the ability to assess current temptations with future risks
  • Avoidance, or the ability to steer clear of something that has posed a risk to sobriety in the past

According to researchers writing in the American Journal of Psychiatry, a therapy known as CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) provides an ideal solution, as it’s a therapy that’s designed to provide people with skills.

In CBT sessions, teens form a tight partnership with a mental health professional. In each session, the two work together on the issue of the teen’s addiction. Rather than delving into the teen’s past and trying to understand where the problem was born, the pair attempts to help the teen make better decisions in the future. In therapy, the two might role-play, talk together, or watch instructional videos. They think about situations that are risky for the teen, and they determine what the teen could do to deal with the risk in the future. In time, the teen learns a great deal about how to think differently about drugs, and about the teen’s role in the world.

This is a short therapy. According to the National Association of Social Workers, teens can sometimes pick up all of the lessons they need in as little as 12 sessions. But the work they do here can have a lasting impact. For the first time, teens might have the skills to break a situation apart before reacting, and that ability could keep them safe from the allure of drugs in the future.

Therapists might also take the time to educate teens on how drugs work and why they are dangerous. Teens often underestimate how physically and mentally debilitating a drug habit can be, and if they’re taking newer drugs like Spice, they might not even know what the drugs have the potential to do. In drug education sessions, therapists can work to close that education gap, so teens know more about what they should be doing in order to stay safe.

Additional Mental Health Concerns

While some teens benefit from therapies that are focused exclusively on drug abuse and drug addiction, it’s not at all unusual for teens with an addiction issue to struggle with mental health concerns. In fact, in a study of the issue published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, researchers compared mental health scores of 4,930 teens and 1,956 adults, all of whom had an addiction concern. While two-thirds of all of these people had a mental health issue in addition to addiction, the researchers said that those ages 18-25 were most vulnerable to these co-occurring concerns.

Sometimes, the same therapy approach provides relief for both issues at the same time. For example, a teen with depression and addiction might spend time in CBT sessions learning to identify what a depressed mood looks and feels like. Then, the teen might spend time learning how to boost a low mood without taking drugs. Later sessions might discuss why giving in to the urge to use drugs could be catastrophic for mental health and depression control. The same therapy could help with both problems, and according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, CBT is an excellent treatment choice for mental health issues like depression.

But CBT isn’t the right choice for all mental health conditions teens might have hiding behind an addiction issue. Some might have complex disorders, including:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Conduct disorders
  • Anorexia

These teens might benefit from some CBT work, but they might need additional help from a different kind of therapy. Sometimes, these teens make great strides when they’re given therapies that focus on family dynamics.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, teens with mental health issues that erode self-control often lean on their parents in order to make good decisions. But parents don’t always have the skills they need in order to discourage bad behaviors and reward good choices. Without those skills, they could inadvertently push teens back into poor decisions involving drug use and self-harm.

In family therapy, the whole group comes together to work on the family dynamic. The parents learn how to spot signs of impending behavioral difficulties, and they learn how to coach their children when problems do appear. Teens also learn skills and awareness, and they develop the ability to trust their parents, so they can come to them when they see harm emerging on the horizon.

Therapies like this can seem depressing or harsh, but in reality, teens often enjoy the work quite a bit. For example, a teen interviewed for an informal blog written by the British Psychological Society suggested that she struggled with issues of trust when the CBT sessions began. But the therapist moved slowly, and laid down boundaries, and in time, this girl began to feel safe and comfortable. She began to see the therapy as, “a chance to move forward in her lifeā€¦” That’s something any parent would want to provide to a child.

Therapeutic Add-Ons

In addition to these formal therapies that are designed to help teens deal with big-picture issues, like addiction or mental illness, therapists might also provide other treatments that are designed to help teens learn how to understand and deal with life’s irritations.

For example, some addiction facilities for teens provide therapies that are designed to help improve the quality and quantity of adolescent sleep. According to a review of the issue in the journal Clinical Psychology Review, the therapy involves:

  • Stimulus-control skill building, so teens learn to wind down before they head to bed
  • Use of bright lights in the daytime, to reduce a teen’s urge to nap the day away
  • Stress reduction techniques, so teens don’t go to bed worried
  • Education on making the bedroom conducive to sleep (i.e., how to keep the room dark, cool, and comfortable)

The researchers of this study report that teens given these therapies were able to sleep with ease, and since they slept better, they were also less likely to use drugs.

Similar benefits might be seen in therapies that help teens learn how to express themselves. In art therapy or dance therapy, teens could learn how to get rid of the thoughts inside their heads in natural, creative ways, without using harmful drugs. Similarly, therapy sessions in which teens work with their peers could help them to develop bonding and communication skills, which could help them build a community of supporters when they head back home.

Putting It All Together

Teens don’t come from a factory. They’re individuals that are shaped by their family environments, their communities, and their histories. As a result, they need specialized treatment programs in order to get better. And sometimes, the therapies a teen needs can change over time.

For example, a teen at the beginning of the recovery journey might need a great deal of help from therapies aimed to curb cravings. Teens new to recovery are often battling with memories of the drugs they once took and the way their lives were when they were on drugs. It’s hard for them to focus on anything else. These teens really need therapies for that one, specific problem.

But in time, a teen like this might develop coping skills and see cravings fade. These teens might need help with other issues, including peer pressure, family conflicts, or assertiveness skills. Their therapy approaches should change, too, in order to be effective.

That’s why counseling and therapy programs for teen addiction tend to take a specialized approach. The plan treatment professionals pull together is based on the challenges the teen demonstrates when the program begins, and as the teen grows and changes, the teen and the treatment team amend and adjust the program as needed.

Programs like this can be remarkably effective, and they’re just the sorts of programs we provide at Next Generation Village. We’d love to tell you more about our approach. Please call the number at the top of the page, and we’ll tell you more about the help we can give your family. We’re here for you. We hope you’ll call.

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