Teen Alcohol and Drug Abuse
Teen Alcohol and Drug Abuse
Finding the Right Treatment for Your Teen
You can help find the right treatment for your teen and help him or her succeed during and after treatment.
- Get the right treatment. Talk with a health professional about treatment options in
your area. Adult programs don't meet the needs of teens. They usually
stress long-term health and relationship effects of substance abuse, which is
not a concern for teens. If your teen needs to be placed in an
inpatient or outpatient program, look for a program with the
features he or she needs. These may include a school program
or opportunities for parental involvement.
- Be involved in the treatment and aftercare program. Let your teen know that
you support him or her. It may take a long time for your teen to reestablish trust,
to be forgiven by you, and to forgive himself or herself.
- Get help for your family. Talk with a health professional
about help for you and your family. Your family members need to know that they did not cause the disease,
but that their behavior can affect the disease. Support groups such as Al-Anon and
Alateen may be very helpful for family members.
- Help establish a direction. Having a sense of direction
in life is important for your teen to remain drug-free. Treatment usually includes help to identify talents and strengths. These
can be used to find healthy interests, hobbies, and jobs.
Treatment for level of use
The type of treatment your teen gets will depend on how bad his or her substance problem is.
- Experimenting. If your teen has started experimenting with
substances, education through a school or community program may be all he or she needs.
Some schools have programs for students with alcohol and drug use problems that
provide support and drug education.
- Weekly use. If your teen is abusing a substance at least weekly, some form of treatment is usually needed. It's important to pay close attention to your teen's
concerns, which may be related to emotional or self-esteem problems. Find
activities that your teen can substitute for substance use. Treatment helps motivate the teen to stop using substances and to learn skills to refuse drugs in
the future. Family
counseling should also be a part of treatment.
- Dependence on alcohol or drugs. Your teen will need treatment in a structured
program and may need medical help for withdrawal symptoms. If
your teen is addicted to heroin or another opiate, he or she may be referred
to a methadone treatment program. These programs use the medicines
buprenorphine, or antidepressants such as bupropion
(Wellbutrin) to help people cope with the withdrawal symptoms caused by opiate
- Dependence on tobacco. Your teen can get help to quit and prevent serious health problems. For more
information, see the topic
Types of programs
There are several types of teen
substance abuse treatment programs.
Inpatient programs are
highly structured and closely supervised in a hospital or
treatment center. The teen stays day and night during treatment, which
normally lasts about 4 weeks. These programs usually have an aftercare program
that provides support and encouragement.
- The programs provide education and
individual, family, and group counseling. They are often based on the
Alcoholics Anonymous and
- Another type of inpatient program is the therapeutic
community, which is not based in a hospital. Teens do a series of tasks with constant feedback from
peers. These programs may last up to 2 years. Some teens choose to stay and work in the program after treatment.
- Wilderness challenge programs combine a wilderness
experience and some form of treatment. The goal is to help troubled teens communicate better
with their families, control their anger, and build healthy relationships. A
variety of programs are available. Their quality varies greatly. They are expensive and tend to limit contact with parents. Talk
with a health professional if you are considering
sending your teen to one of these programs.
Outpatient programs range from very structured programs with psychotherapy and family therapy to
- These programs require
that the teen spend 8 hours or more during the day at the facility, but the
teen is home at night. Day treatment programs usually have the same features
(individual, group, and family counseling) as inpatient programs. But day
treatment normally costs less.
- Less intensive outpatient programs
are designed for young people who do not need as much time in day treatment or to be in an around-the-clock treatment center. Treatment includes one-on-one or group counseling and
family therapy. Treatment in the teen's own community makes it easier for the family to be involved.
Whatever type of program you choose, it
should consider teen developmental issues, such as
peer pressure and the need to test limits. The treatment also needs to
provide a way for your teen to continue his or her education. It may boost your teen's
self-confidence and self-esteem if he or she can do even small academic
tasks during treatment.
What to do if your teen relapses
Getting a teen to
stop using alcohol, cigarettes, or other drugs is only the first step.
Substance use fills an emotional need. That need has to be found and satisfied in
a healthy way for your teen to be able to stay off the
Returning to substance use (having a relapse) after
treatment is common. It's not considered a treatment failure. Most relapses
occur within the first 3 months after treatment. Most often, teens need to go
through treatment more than once and follow a long recovery process.
Your teen is less likely to relapse if:
- The treatment program motivates him or her to stop using and to learn the skills to deal with drug cravings,
high-risk situations, and relapse.
- Your teen can commit to being
substance-free for 12 to 24 months.
- Your teen has or finds a
healthy hobby or interest.
- Your teen gets
treatment for other health problems he or she may have, such as
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),
depression or long-term depressed mood (dysthymia),
post-traumatic stress disorder, or an
- Your teen is involved in an aftercare program or case
Patrice Burgess, MD - Family Medicine
Peter Monti, PhD - Alcohol and Addiction
July 20, 2012
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