In adolescence and young adulthood, there is serious pressure to experiment with alcohol or drugs, and there’s a common misconception that “everyone is doing it.” It’s a crucial period of mental development, when the brain circuits governing judgment and self-control are still developing. Substance abuse can also lead to other risky behaviors, like skipping school, impaired driving, unprotected sex, or gang involvement.
Habits begin to develop in adolescence, and the teen brain is particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of heavy alcohol and drug use–including dependence and addiction. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), in 2015, around 5% of adolescents (aged 12 to 17) in the United States had a Substance Use Disorder (SUD)–that’s 1 in every 20 adolescent Americans. The same survey found that more than 1 in every 3 adults with a SUD began using alcohol and/or drugs before the age of 14.
At such a young age, substance abuse takes away from critical academic learning and life skills development. It has the power to change the course of a young person’s life. Adolescent substance abuse treatment needs to be a place of both healing and learning for adolescents. Beyond breaking the cycle of substance abuse, your adolescent treatment program can guide young people in their development, help them find a sense of direction, and lay the foundation for a better future.
Adolescents are not yet adults, but they’re not children anymore, either. They are beginning to have responsibilities, and learning that they’re held accountable for their actions. They are navigating family relationships, friendships, and even new romantic relationships. On top of all of this, adolescents are in school five days a week.
Adolescence is a formative stage in a young person’s education, as well as life experience. An academic education is important to cognitive development and creating opportunities for their future. The life skills and habits that are developed during adolescence are also crucial–they can potentially shape a young person’s adult life, for better or for worse.
Effective substance abuse treatment (for people of any age) should address the needs of the whole person–not just his or her drug use. For adolescents, this is especially true. Treatment should focus on all aspects of a young person’s life, including their psychological development, mental and emotional wellness, relationships with family and friends, cultural influences, and academics.
One of the notable signs of adolescent substance abuse is missing school or poor academic performance. It can also lead to strained family relationships and friendships, which may limit the development of healthy social skills. In combination, these problems can lead an adolescent to devalue responsibilities, the people they care about, and any goals or ambitions for their future. Alcohol or drugs not only become an emotional crutch, but also a temporary escape from life, growing up, and adulthood.
In some cases, the best-intentioned parents, teachers, and school prevention programs just won’t get through to a young person. Substances can have a powerful effect on the adolescent brain, and the age comes along with a growing sense of independence–sometimes rebellion. When substance abuse issues are brought up, it can have a polarizing effect. A young person may feel that their parents, teachers, or adults in general are “against them.”
This is why adolescent treatment must do more than address substance abuse behaviors alone. It needs to acknowledge the unique issues adolescents face, like keeping up with school work, changing social dynamics, and the increasing responsibilities that accompany growing up. In conjunction with therapeutic approaches and substance abuse counseling, your adolescent treatment program can provide education–both academic and life skills–that your young clients have missed or are missing as a result of substance abuse.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment, and adolescent clients will be at varying degrees of emotional and psychological development, social skills, and academic education. Educational treatment programs can guide young people, not only on a path of sobriety, but also on a path of purpose. You can shape your adolescent treatment program to help to fill possible gaps or neglected areas of a young person’s development–no matter what their story is.
Of course, an educational treatment program needs to give due attention to substance abuse issues and behavioral therapies. In addition, your program can:
This last piece is crucial to your educational treatment program. School is one of the major aspects of adolescent life that is neglected because of substance abuse, and, in turn, adolescents attend treatment and have to sacrifice school yet again. The hope for recovery is that adolescents can repair damaged aspects of their lives, which includes their school education. Treatment should not take away from an adolescent’s education!
Some of your clients may be behind in school as a result of missed classes or gaps in their learning. Some will lack motivation or confidence in their abilities in school. By offering academic education resources for adolescents in your treatment program, you can help young people begin that repair while they’re in treatment. You enable them to stay on-track for graduation, to prepare for GED testing or college entrance exams, and to believe in their abilities as students.
One of the best ways to market your adolescent treatment program or facility is simply to offer the best service. Parents’ concerns stretch beyond their child’s self-destructive behaviors. Parents are aware of the serious consequences of substance abuse in adolescents–poor performance in school, stunted development, losing connection with loved ones, long-lasting dependence or addiction–and they fear the worst for their child. So much is at stake for an adolescent abusing substances.
Adolescent clients leaving your program should feel confident in their recovery, as well as their capabilities in school and life. A young person is set up for greater success if he or she has some sense of direction when they leave treatment. Incorporating education into your adolescent program can produce longer lasting change, leading to greater engagement in school, improved relationships with family members, increased motivation, and even aspirations towards a future career.
Whether yours is an adolescent-specific program, or your treatment program offers services for adolescents, an educational component in your treatment approach can revolutionize your business. Your program will offer more comprehensive treatment. That treatment will have a greater impact on the lives of your clients. They can build recovery, while also having greater confidence in themselves as young adults and a restored sense of direction for their future. Ultimately, the success of those clients is what makes your program stand out among the rest.
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