Help! This is More Than a Phase

What do you do when your teen is using drugs or alcohol?

The first time you caught them, maybe you referenced the D.A.R.E. Program, maybe you grounded them, or maybe you took away their electronics.  You likely had a sit-down conversation that substance use was not acceptable.  You eventually moved past it and worked to trust him or her again.

Then the unimaginable happened.  Again.  You caught them drinking or smoking marijuana.  Or another parent or teacher contacted you about suspected substance use.  Maybe you found contraband in their room or backpack.  No, you’re not crazy.   Yes, you were clear the first time.   You are correct:  this is not acceptable behavior even though your teen says: “Everybody is doing it” or “Marijuana is practically legal.”  It seems like many neighbors, friends, and colleagues have turned a blind eye and say this “This is just what kids do.”

You are probably overwhelmed and even questioning our own judgment.   You don’t think your kid is addicted but it seems like more than a phase.   So where do you turn?  What are your options?

Please understand that addiction is not something that happens overnight.  It is a chronic, progressive disease.  While your child may not be addicted, their behavior should be taken seriously.  How this behavior is assessed determines the appropriate level of treatment.

It is unfortunately a common occurrence that a family, overwhelmed with their teen’s behavior, gets recommended for a therapeutic intervention that is more than necessary.  This is where understanding that substance use occurs on a continuum:  mild, moderate, and severe is critical and a thorough assessment by a licensed, trained clinician who is experienced in working with teens is critical.  Utilizing an approach of least to more restrictive intervention, allows for your child to remain at home, in school, and involved in healthy activities.   The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has established five main continuum levels of care for substance use disorders treatment.

At Insight Into Action Therapy (IIAT) we offer specialize treatment for adolescents and their families.  Cyndi Turner and I developed the Dual Diagnosis Recovery Program© (DDRP).  The DDRP is a Structured Outpatient Program.  It provides an alternative resource for teens and their families dealing with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.  Unlike a traditional adolescent Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), which is designed for people more progressed on the addictive spectrum, we do not require numerous hours and days of treatment in a week.  We believe it is just as important for teens to maintain participation in their home environment, school, job, and activities while receiving therapy.

Most adolescent IOPs require a primary diagnosis.  In this situation, it would be something related to substance use.  This primary diagnosis jargon is insurance driven and determines the therapeutic approach.  It is not necessarily in the best interest of the teen or the family.  What if you had a teen with substance related behavior but it was actually as a result of an underlying mental health problem?  The majority of adolescent IOPs are either for mental health or substance use, rarely both.  But your child may be experiencing both, so what are you to do?

IIAT offers an individualized family approach to treating clients.  It’s not a cookie cutter, one size fits all model driven by diagnosis and insurance.  We accomplish this by keeping our group sizes small.  This allows us to get to know your family, because your child’s struggles affect all of you.  In fact, family involvement in the therapeutic process is the biggest indicator of recovery and a successful outcome.

Another important distinction between the DDRP and an adolescent IOP is that while there is a start date, the end date is not predetermined.  The belief that all of your teen’s issues will be resolved in 10 or 12 weeks (the traditional length of an IOP) is flawed.  It should be based on how your teen is progressing.  Insight Into Action Therapy uses Best Practice Models  to determine successful completion.  It’s not just about the drug or alcohol use. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, (NIDA) treatment outcomes improve with longer periods of care.

You should take action when your teen has been found to be using drugs and/or alcohol.  Adolescent IOPs and inpatient programs are not always the best option nor do they yield the best outcomes.  Make sure that the person completing your assessment has experience with your child’s issues, is licensed, and has substance use disorder credentials to give you the best treatment recommendation.  Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.

Whichever program you decide, it should offer some basic components:

  • Individualized recommendations and treatment
  • Group Therapy
  • Individual Therapy
  • On-site Drug and Alcohol Testing
  • Family Therapy

Lastly, be careful looking at an IOP or inpatient program as the solution.  If you go all-in with the most restrictive treatment interventions, you may use up your options too quickly.




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