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Treatment of Substance Abuse in Adolescents

substance abuseWhile drug use can begin at different ages, the general onset is in adolescence.[1] Approximately 50 percent of high school seniors report having used an illicit drug in the past year, as well as 33 percent of tenth graders and 15 percent of eighth graders.1 Marijuana was the most commonly used illicit drug, and alcohol and cigarettes were also popular.1 Approximately 1.2 million 12- to 17-year-olds have a diagnosable alcohol or drug use disorder.1

However, only 8.4 percent of those 1.2 million American youths ages 12 to 17 receive substance abuse treatment.1 Many factors contribute to the treatment gap, as many feel as though they do not need treatment and parents underestimate the extent of the abuse.1 While health guidelines strongly recommend annual screenings, brief interventions, and treatment referrals, they are rarely followed.1

There are several treatments available for youth with substance use problems or disorders, which should be greatly taken advantage of.1 As adolescents often have comorbid psychiatric disorders and family issues that instigate their drug use, involving the family in the therapy is extremely important.1 Here are some great evidence-based therapies proven to help decrease adolescent substance abuse:1

First of all, there is family-based therapy, through which the drug or alcohol abuse is treated indirectly by improving family functioning.1

Multisystemic therapy (MST) is another form of therapy available, which is individualized, intensive, home-based treatment that focuses on family, school, community, and the social network factors that lead to substance using behavior.1 The goal is to improve family functioning and facilitate healthy changes in the youth’s environment.1 It is an evidence-based therapy, as it not only decreases drug use but also decreases violent crimes and criminal arrests.1

Multidimensional family therapy (MDFT) is a comprehensive and multisystemic family-based outpatient treatment program.1 It targets the youth and their family, the parents, family functioning, and family interactions.1 It has shown efficacy in reducing substance abuse, improving school performance, and improving family functioning.1 It is an evidence-based therapy shown to be effective in treating adolescents with high severity and frequency of use, as well as those with other psychiatric comorbidities.1

Brief strategic family therapy (BSFT) targets the self-sustaining changes in the family environment.1 A therapist visits the household and asks that all family members act like they are not there.1 The therapist is able to determine repetitive patterns of family interactions and can restructure the family dynamic to promote more adaptive interaction patterns.1 BSFT is efficient in reducing and eliminating adolescent drug abuse and problem behavior, as well as improve family functioning.1

While progress has been made developing effective drug treatments, more work is needed to implement evidence-based treatments within the community, especially within the education, medical, and legal sectors.1

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