Adolescents Need Adolescent Addiction Treatment, Not Adult

By Lisa Frederiksen, Group Facilitator ()

Until the turn of the 21st century, there was little understanding of the inner workings of the teen brain—I mean the inner workings, the science that shows how the brain develops and what influences that development (childhood trauma, mental illness, social environment, genetics, and puberty), let alone the profound impact of substance misuse on the adolescent brain.

In the world of addiction treatment, this 21st century brain and addiction-related research is changing how we understand and conduct adolescent addition treatment. It is now understood that adolescent addiction programs cannot be the same as those used to treat adult addiction because of this “developing teen brain” component. This is not to say that some components will not be the same, but it is to say some components are critical and adolescent specific. So what should parents look for in adolescent treatment programs? Here are the nine key elements that have been identified by a research team and national survey funded by Drug Strategies and published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (2004) in an article titled “The Quality of Highly Regarded Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment Programs: Results of an In-depth National Survey.”

Assessment and Treatment Matching
Programs should conduct comprehensive assessments that cover psychiatric, psychological, and medical problems, learning disabilities, family functioning, and other aspects of the adolescent’s life.
Comprehensive, Integrated Treatment Approach
Program services should address all aspects of an adolescent’s life (i.e., medical, psychiatric, family, environmental—not just the substance abuse).
Family Involvement in Treatment
Research shows that involving parents in the adolescent’s drug treatment produces better outcomes.
Developmentally Appropriate Program
Activities and materials should reflect the developmental differences between adults and adolescents.
Engage and Retain Teens in Treatment
Treatment programs should build a climate of trust between the adolescent and the therapist.
Qualified Staff
Staff should be trained in adolescent development, co-occurring mental disorders, substance abuse, and addiction.
Gender and Cultural Competence
Programs should address the distinct needs of adolescent boys and girls as well as cultural differences among minorities.
Continuing Care
Programs should include relapse prevention training, aftercare plans, referrals to community resources, and follow-up.
Treatment Outcomes
Rigorous evaluation is required to measure success, target resources, and improve treatment services

To learn more about this 21st century research, the adolescent brain and what to ask when looking for adolescent addiction treatment, please see the following additional resources: