Teens at Muir Wood enjoy game night

Teen Intervention: What You Need to Know

An Overview of Teen Intervention

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, almost 1.4 million adolescents met the criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence in back in 2002, and of these young people, fewer than 230,000 got care for that problem. Since then, the numbers have swelled. This article deals with the topic if teen intervention.

It’s possible that some of these young people didn’t get help because they kept their abuse hidden from the people they love. It’s also possible, however, that the abuse continued because the adults in the room weren’t sure how to tackle the addiction. They couldn’t think of the right words to say in order to bring up the topic of substance or alcohol abuse. And so they said nothing. That’s tragic, as there are a variety of very good intervention techniques that could help teens and their parents come to grips with this critically important issue.

Determining the Right Approach

teen interventionWhen people think about the word intervention in the context of substance abuse, they often think about combative talks between an addicted person and his or her family. When discussions involving substance abuse are displayed in television shows and movies, the talks typically follow a rigid format in which the family demands changes and the person enters a rehab program. Or doesn’t. While conversations like this can be appropriate for some teens with substance use disorder, a forceful talk isn’t the only way to handle the issue. In fact, it might not even be the right approach at all.

An article by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration urges providers to think of teen addictions on a spectrum of severity. Among the range of behaviors, the treatments needed vary. Those with mild symptoms, for example, might need only mild nudges in order to get back on track, while those who have entrenched problems of significant severity likely need therapies that are more intense, and that last for a longer period of time. The same might be said about the conversations parents should have in a teen intervention regarding a suspected substance abuse issue. Some might be intense and strict, but others might benefit from a less overwhelming approach.

The Wisdom of Starting Slow

Parents who suspect substance abuse can open the door with a simple, one-on-one teen intervention. Essentially, a conversation.The Partnership at DrugFree.org suggests that a conversation about substance abuse can allow parents to:

  • Restate the home rules regarding substances
  • Provide proof of the substance abuse they’ve seen
  • Share their concerns about substance abuse
  • Set limits regarding future use
  • Praise the child for the things that child has done well and provide love, encouragement and support

Some parents find that they learn a significant amount about their child’s substance use during an impromptu teen intervention like this. Some teens use and abuse substances surreptitiously, but when they’re confronted, they’re willing to discuss the issue in great detail. Some teens may admit that their use is intense and it’s impossible for the teen to control the problem without outside help. The quick conversation can turn into a loving entry into a treatment program, and the teen might go willingly after talking with parents. Other teens agree to discuss the issue with parents on an ongoing basis. Periodically, they outline their cravings for drugs, or they ask for help with specific friends who use drugs and who might pressure the teen to do the same. The parents and the teen enter into a partnership and together, they work on the issue. Some teens also need touch-up counseling, but for some teens, this teen intervention and subsequent talks parents have that reinforce the original lessons, may be the only interventions required.

Interventions of Increased Intensity

If a family holds an informal teen intervention and their teen continues to use and abuse substances, a more intensive intervention employing the expertise of a professional interventionist might be required. There are a variety of ways in which families can hold this talk. Some families choose to hire an interventionist, and they conduct a standardized talk in which the teen is asked to listen to several family members and friends, all of whom:

  • Outline the substance abuse-related behavior they’ve seen
  • Express love and support for the teen
  • Discuss why they’d like the teen to change
  • Explain how treatment might help
  • Ask the teen to willingly enter a treatment program

The professional interventionist, due to her or his specialized training, is in charge of these discussions and ensures that the family stays on track and on topic, and when the talk is through, the teen is expected to enroll in therapy. Families might hold practice sessions in the days leading up to the teen intervention. The talk may be difficult, but it can allow parents to lay down the law regarding substance use and insist that their child get the needed help.

While these interventions can be helpful, there’s more than one way to address a substance using teen. Some interventions can help family members to heal, even if the teen never goes into a treatment program at all. A C.R.A.F.T. Intervention, for example, involves a significant amount of training, allowing families to learn more about how to structure the family in ways that make addictive behaviors less rewarding. They apply indirect pressure that results in sobriety, since the teen might feel left out or just neglected when the rest of the family insists on sobriety in order for the teen to participate in the fun activities they all enjoy. In a study in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 71 percent of parents got their children into care through the help of a C.R.A.F.T. Intervention, but even those families that aren’t successful might benefit, as they might learn how to move the focus of the family from the teen’s addiction to the beauties of sobriety. The whole tone of the family may change, even if the teen does not.

What Happens Next

Regardless of the route the family chooses for this important conversation, they should have a treatment facility chosen before they start a teen intervention. In the midst of a laid-back discussion, parents might find that their child is suffering with deep, underlying emotional issues that just weren’t visible before. Similarly, in an intense conversation, children need to know that there’s someone willing to help, just as soon as they agree to participate. Many addiction treatment facilities, such as Muir Wood, are willing to work with parents in advance of a teen intervention, allowing them to enroll their children from a distance so they can get care as soon as the talk is over.

At Muir Wood, we can work with parents planning a teen intervention and can recommend a professional interventionist. We can also outline how treatment plans typically work, and we can obtain insurance information and pertinent medical records in advance, so all will be ready when the child agrees that help is needed. Please call to get the process started or to ask any questions you might have. We’ll outline how treatment works, and we’ll provide a significant amount of information on the things you’ll need to do in order to prepare a family for a teen intervention.