Effective Intervention for Adolescent Addiction

Treating substance use disorder (SUD) among adolescents has never felt so urgent as today. With the opioid epidemic and the mental health crisis due to pandemic isolation, more and more young people are at higher risk of using drugs and alcohol.

In sharp contrast to this trend is the reality that only a small percentage of adolescents who need treatment are receiving care. Untreated or ineffectively treated adolescent SUD has always been a serious problem. It is time for parents and educators to work with recovery specialists in a concerted and proactive way to address this ongoing crisis.

Understanding Health Concerns in Adolescence

Adolescents are individuals between the ages of 12 and 25, a critical period for developmental outcomes. Young people explore new things and take on more risk-seeking activities. Unusual behaviors such as truancy, aggression, and violence can also occur. Researchers consider adolescence a developmental phase when many unhealthy behavioral patterns take shape with a lasting impact on later adulthood.

The most common behavioral problems among adolescents are smoking, drinking, and experimenting with drugs. Teens and adolescents are highly social groups where the fear of exclusion runs high. Peer pressure alone may become a conduit for substance use to spread within a group of adolescents.

The critical nature of this developmental phase also lies in the fact that external factors make the adolescent brain highly malleable. Early exposure to drugs and alcohol may wire the brain structures in a way that makes a person more susceptible to addiction and its co-occurring mental health problems in later adulthood.

Challenges in Treating Adolescents 

One difficulty with treating adolescents for SUD is that many tend to leave or quit before treatment is officially over. These half-treated young people then return to life while experiencing difficulties in school and work, including academic failure, broken relationships, and sometimes overdose deaths. Therefore, it is crucial to find effective interventions to keep young people enrolled and actively engaged in the treatment program until full completion.

Recovery specialists need to keep young people in treatment for more extended periods. Techniques like motivational interviewing can motivate and support young people by meeting where they are at. Group counseling also has a strong, cohesive power to support recovering individuals. There needs to be a reward plan and incentives to encourage non-substance-using behaviors.  

Family and Community-Based Approaches 

One significant aspect is involving the adolescent's caregiver to participate in the treatment plan. Parental and family involvement is key to effective prevention and treatment of SUD among teens. This approach takes care of many issues, such as family communication and conflict resolution, which are often deeper causes or risk factors for substance use among young people. Research shows that family-based intervention and treatment are both highly effective.

These include brief strategic family therapy, family behavior therapy, functional family therapy, multidimensional family therapy, and multisystemic therapy. A common underlying belief behind all these programs is that one family member's behavioral health issues are related to unhealthy family interactions. Through the facilitation by a trained therapist, family members can apply new skills to improve the home environment.

Another important institution is the education system, which plays a big role in preventing adolescent addiction. School-based interventions with personalized feedback and goal setting, as well as family-based programs emphasizing parental support and establishing clear boundaries can reduce alcohol-related behavior issues among adolescents.

A Combination of Intervention Tools

It takes a big team to implement a successful intervention for adolescents who develop an addiction to drugs and alcohol. There needs to be medication management by licensed professionals, psychiatric consultation by trained counselors, family therapy by experienced therapists, and support staff who offer a range of other important age-specific services such as academic support and aftercare planning.

To a certain extent, intervention for adolescents can be more challenging to navigate than for adults. Parents always want to find the best program for their children who are willing to try it. However, they also do not want their children's academic grades to fall during this time. Effective intervention for this age group also demands an individualized approach to meet each young person's unique needs. Therapists and counselors also try to give young patients a sense of agency because that is what keeps them motivated.

Finally, treatment specialists need to consider that the adolescent years are critical for young people to develop life skills. Some treatment programs prepare them for future career choices by building the young individual's self-confidence and coaching them in key relationship skills. This is part of the adaptability side of successful prevention. 

Are you worried about a teen or adolescent child who uses substances? Do you know how to best intervene? Early intervention is key for young people because their habits today are formative for their adulthood. However, there can be unique challenges when intervention is needed for adolescents. Many who were willing to be treated eventually leave treatment without completing it. You want to have the best strategies ready before doing anything. Otherwise, untreated adolescent substance use disorder can be even more difficult. Because of the complexity of this task, you should consider working with professional interventionists who are experienced with young people in this age group. At South Florida Intervention, our trained interventionists have helped many parents, and our commitment is to connect you with trusted health professionals. We offer recovery coaching, parent coaching, detailed case management, and sober escort service. Early intervention is key; do not delay. Call us at (202) 390-2273.