Finding Treatment for Addicted Teens

When my daughter was spinning out of control from her addiction, there were difficult decisions to be made. One of the most frustrating things was seeking treatment options for her. I spent a lot of time, effort, and money on programs that did not work — before finding a successful solution.

Failed attempt number one began when I called the number on the back of my insurance card and followed the recommendation to admit Lauren into an adolescent psychiatric hospital. Most of their patients were there for severe mental and emotional problems that required medication. They were not prepared to take on a case like Lauren and made many suggestions that were actually detrimental, like suggesting I send her away to spend time with relatives after her release. Even with ongoing counseling, once she returned home, she was back to business as usual.

The second attempt was a local hospital offering an outpatient substance abuse program. This was equally dismal since their primary strategy for helping her was telling her she needed to change her ways.  When the head counselor informed me they were kicking her out of the program because she was still using drugs and supplying them to other patients, I fought back.  Why did they think I had her there in the first place?  Weren’t they supposed to be the experts?

There were several more attempts before we happened upon a program specifically for adolescents.  They educated Lauren about her illness — alcoholism —and provided treatment that addressed the total disease and focused on a long-term recovery game plan and treatment for the whole family.  I am grateful I did not give up and that I searched for a solution that worked, because in the end it paid off.

For too many treatment facilities, recovery is a business.  Typically, the first person you speak with will be someone who is good at marketing the programs’ services to you. Consider the fact that treatment for adolescents has its unique challenges in that teens are developmentally different from adults. The part of the brain that understands consequences is not fully developed until the early twenties, so teens do not fully comprehend the imminent consequences of their substance abuse. Also, teens are greatly influenced by their peers, and friends’ opinions often carry more weight than yours or any other adults’, so it is important that peer group therapy be part of the program. Most important, just like adults, treatment for teens needs to address the entire disease of addiction and how it negatively affects the body, mind, and spirit. (Most twelve-step programs take this approach.)

Here are some questions to ask when considering a treatment center:

1. Is the program specifically designed for addicted adolescents?
2. Does the program include treatment for the entire family?
3. Does the program include treatment for the entire disease — physical, emotional, and spiritual?
4. What evidence can they provide that their program is successful with young people?
5. How does the program provide aftercare for ongoing recovery?