Three Evidenced Based Practices for Treating Teen Addiction
Fortunately, the science of treating addiction in teens has improved. Historically, teens with addictions to alcohol or drugs attended treatment programs that had a boot-camp-like style with confrontational methods that were meant to break down the attitudes and defense mechanisms of teens.
Yet, in the 1950’s, clinicians began to recognize that the behaviors of teens with addiction were different than adults with addictions and that they deserved different treatment methods. In fact, with this recognition, the first adolescent treatment center opened in 1952 with Riverside Hospital in New York City.
Since then, many forms of therapy have evolved and are now used to treat teens with addiction. Some of these modalities are considered to be evidence based, meaning that there’s consistent evidence in the success of using these treatment modalities. Below you’ll find a list of three treatment practices that are evidence based and used to treat teens with addictions.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a behavioral therapy. The main principle of this therapy is that behavior can be learned, and so it can also be unlearned. For instance, if a teen has learned that using drugs is a way to cope with stress or improve one’s mood, then that type of behavior can be unlearned and a therapist can give a teen another method of coping with stress. To do this, CBT helps a teen make connections between the way they are thinking, feeling, and behaving.
Frequently, there are automatic and recurring thoughts that can drive a teen to want to use drugs. This form of therapy invites an exploration of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors before, during, and after substance use. This can allow for the replacement of harmful thoughts with healthier ones that might prevent a teen from using drugs in the first place.
Reduction of Harm
The Reduction of Harm model does not strive for complete abstinence, although abstinence can be a long-term goal. The Reduction of Harm model recognizes that abstinence is not the best option for a newly recovering addict, especially for teens. It might be difficult to take in the idea of abstinence while still heavily using drugs or drinking. Instead, drug counselors and experts in this form of treatment focus on a reduction of harm.
The reduction of harm model is relatively new to the addiction and recovery field. Yet, it has been proven to help a teen slowly get to abstinence. This model respects adolescents for where they are in life. There is no judgment that is placed on a teen for having an addiction.
Instead, treatment is focused on reducing the amount of harm that comes from substance use. For instance, if a teen can go from drinking every day to drinking only on the weekends, then he or she has made some improvement. And if a teen can cut back on his or her marijuana use, including no longer mixing it with drinking, then there is improvement.
By not judging adolescents for their drug use, this model helps to reduce the stigma of drug and alcohol use. For this reason, the reduction of harm model more and more popular among mental health professionals.
Harm reduction is an evidenced based practice of identifying ways in which the physiological, psychological, social and financial burdens of substance and/or alcohol use can be minimized through education and empowering a teen. Although abstinence for a teen might be the end result and perhaps the desired goal, a reduction of harm accepts an adolescent where he or she is at and does not stigmatize them for their substance use.
There is are many reasons why the 12-step method is successful with teens, especially when considering the developmental needs of adolescents. For instance, the first step addresses a teen’s sense of autonomy, power, belonging, and purpose. What works well when talking about this first step with a teen is to teach them that addiction is a disease and provide scientific explanation. In this way, teens can begin to understand that they do not have control over everything that happens in life. However, they can be responsible for the tools, resources, and help they need for their recovery. What doesn’t work with the first step is telling a teen that they are totally powerless over everything in life or giving them the impression that they are a hopeless addict and they can’t change. Perhaps this goes without saying but judgment and criticism will hinder a teen’s recovery.
Another example of using the 12-steps with teens is the third step. The third step addresses a teen’s abstract thinking, autonomy, and sense of belonging.
By highlighting the fact that it’s up to them whether they want to make this decision can further a teen’s sense of autonomy and free will. This is important during adolescence. What doesn’t work well for teens is telling them that they must make this decision or they are doomed to fail.
Also, limiting a higher power to the use of the word ” God” can also be stifling for an adolescent. Instead, it can be freeing to allow a teen to develop his or her own sense of higher power and to use whatever word he or she feels is appropriate.
Although the 12 steps require a teen’s maturity, abstract thinking, and autonomy, it’s possible for the 12-steps to significantly support the sobriety of adolescents, as it has for millions of people around the world.
These are three different modalities that have been largely successful with teens (as well as adults). If you are a parent or caregiver and looking for support for your teen, consider working with a mental health provider who can facilitate one of these treatment methods.