A Hard Realization
For parents, learning that their child has a substance abuse problem can be devastating. For some, it can be difficult to accept the reality of the situation. Picturing one’s child as a drug abuser can seem unbelievable. However, it can be helpful to put things into perspective. Almost ten percent of adolescents, those between 12 and 17, meet the drug abuse criteria established by the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. The problem is substantial, and parents are not alone in their struggle to find help.
A different approach
Alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs geared towards adolescents must take a slightly different approach than those aimed at adults. Adolescents live in a different world than their parents, and their reasons for using drugs may not be the same as an adult’s reasons. Furthermore, their lives are wrapped up in school, friends and the struggle to develop maturity – all things that adults often take for granted.
Drugs also affect youth in different ways than older people, which sometimes requires a different style of rehabilitation than normally used. There is also the aspect of family to consider. Children’s lives are interwoven with their families, and forgetting to factor this in can vastly inhibit the effectiveness of treatment.
Many parents ask themselves why their children would ever start using drugs in the first place. Most kids are told from day one that drugs are bad, that they are dangerous and illegal. Why would a young person choose to do something when there are so many reasons not to?
It is easy for adults to forget the intensity of growing up, and all the pressures, both internal and external, that adolescents face. Youth is a time for exploration, for risk taking and often for defiance. Peer pressure can also be a contributing factor. Sometimes kids just want to fit in, and will do whatever is necessary to do so.
Drug rehab for adolescents must take these motivations into consideration when designing a treatment plan. It is never enough to stop a person, adult or teen, from using drugs. The reason for starting and continuing to use must be addressed as well. If the motivations are not dealt with, the person can very easily begin using again.
Problems unique to adolescents
Young people, especially teens, should be working hard to establish a strong foundation for adulthood. Performing well in school, learning and practicing good social skills and coming into adulthood with a functional relationship with their family – all of these experiences are important for an adolescent to get the most out of their teen years. Drugs, unfortunately, get in the way of this.
Drug abuse amongst teens can lead to a variety of problems, including:
• Skipping school
• A drop in grades
• Mood swings
• Destructive social practices
• Trust issues at home
• Decrease in brain function
• Problems with concentration
• Impairment in brain development
Some teens caught up in drug use may also get involved in other illegal activities. This can set a bad precedent that may follow them around for years, especially if they begin getting arrested. It is an unfortunate fact that drug abuse and crime often go hand in hand, and this is not a pattern any adolescent should get involved in if it can be avoided.
The earlier teens begin using alcohol or drugs, the more likely they are to develop serious abuse problems later in life. This risk of setting a lifelong pattern is significant, and one that teens are uniquely vulnerable to.
Rehabilitation programs geared toward youth must understand the problems faced by young patients to adequately treat their abuse. The best treatment programs are personalized, and will be familiar with the difficulties unique to this stage of life.
Most adults who enter drug rehabilitation do so voluntarily. There are some exceptions, of course, but overall rehab is considered to work best when the person going through it wants to be there. With adolescents, however, this is often not the case.
Adolescent rehab programs will often need to treat patients who do not want to be treated. There are times when young people will approach a parent or other adult and seek out help for their issue, but many times adolescents are caught engaging in the addictive behavior. Whether a parent catches them using, discovers paraphernalia or police officers report an issue after a run in with the law, teens are often told that they are going to rehab in no uncertain terms.
There might have been attempts by parents or loved ones to help at home, with little success. There might also be significant trust issues between loved ones and the teen. Whatever came before, though, the teen is now facing an extended period of time in drug rehab. This leaves treatment programs with the difficult task of treating a patient that does not want to be treated.
A good rehab center knows how to deal with this type of patient, and fortunately younger people are often easier to bring around to an understanding of the importance of treatment. This can be made even easier with the help of family.
The importance of family
The fact that so many adolescents show up to treatment centers unhappy to be there makes the involvement of the family all the more important. Family involvement has been shown to produce significantly better outcomes for teens going through rehabilitation. This means, if at all possible, that loved ones need to be involved as much as they can be.
Young people need support and they need examples to model their behavior on. One of the more important factors for a teen going through rehabilitation is to have family members at their side that continuously set a good example. Responsible use of alcohol at home is one part of this. Teens will often use substances out of a desire for acceptance, and even if they would never say so, acceptance by one’s family is incredibly important.
Long term support
The importance of long term, comprehensive support for effective recovery cannot be stressed enough. This is true for all drug rehabilitation programs, but an extra emphasis must be place on adolescent drug abusers. A hard-hitting, short-lived effort at rehabilitation is rarely effective. In fact, many teens that only participate in an initial rehabilitation program, with no support after, wind up using drugs again.
Ongoing therapy and support groups, as well as a supporting family structure, make rehabilitation much easier for adolescents. The more people and groups who are providing support, the better.
A comprehensive, long term rehabilitation regimen will involve the standard initial rehab, whether inpatient or outpatient, and then regular follow-ups for an extended period of time. These can come in the form of support groups, and ideally will have the family involved as well. Family is the most constant factor in the lives of adolescents, and its involvement in the long-term process can prove invaluable.
When it is discovered that an adolescent has a drug abuse problem, the effects on parents, family and loved ones can be painful and upsetting. These feelings, however, are a good indication of how much the young person is loved. That love is important, because it can provide the necessary fuel to seek help. More importantly, it can provide the needed energy to be in it for the long haul.
Thorough drug rehab for adolescents is not an easy process to go through, but it can mean the difference between a happy, fulfilling life, or one of constant turmoil. Adolescents need a special kind of care, and a support structure to help them through the challenges ahead.