Why Teens Abuse Drugs: Why More Adolescent Treatment Centers Are Needed


The specter of teenage drug abuse continues to be a significant health issue in the United States.  While the 2013 Monitoring the Future survey has shown slight decreases in the use of alcohol, tobacco, and prescription painkillers such as Vicodin in teenagers, there have been significant increases in the use of marijuana, heroin and benzodiazepines such as Xanax.  Factors that have led to the increase in use of these drugs are varied. 

For example, the increased use of marijuana has been tied to increasing societal perceptions that it is not as dangerous a drug as it once was perceived.  In the case of Xanax and other benzodiazepines, the increase in use can be traced to the medical community prescribing the drug for ADHD and other psychiatric disorders as well as the perception that drugs like Xanax and Adderall are “study drugs” which aid in focus.  In the case of heroin, the increase in use amongst teenagers is largely due to the increase in price of synthetic opioids like Oxycontin.

The Need for Adolescent Treatment Centers

While teen drug use and abuse has consistently been a significant concern for health professionals and providers, it is estimated that only 10 percent of teenagers in the United States are receiving treatment for alcohol and drug abuse.  With an estimated 1.4 million teenagers that are needing help with substance abuse issues nationwide, the disparity between what is needed and what currently is being provided is alarming. 

In an article written by Meghan Vivo which was featured on the Teen Drug Abuse website (www.teen-drug-abuse.org), there are three main obstacles that are being encountered regarding the shortage of quality adolescent drug and alcohol treatment centers. 

  1. Fewer Adolescent Treatment Programs—the shortage seen in teen-only treatment centers are prevalent in those programs that rely on government funding as well as programs that are hospital based.  The majority of treatment facilities that specialize in adolescent treatment are funded by larger treatment organizations and are accredited by external organizations like the Joint Commission.  However, since services for adolescents are less available where they are needed most, many adolescents who need drug treatment can miss out early on.
  2. Lack of Quality Care in Outpatient Settings—the quality of some of the existing adolescent-only treatment facilities are seen as substandard, especially in the areas of family involvement in the treatment process and number of comprehensive services that are offered.  This can be attributed to the fact that 70% of adolescent substance abuse programs only offer services on an outpatient basis.  The most effective treatment outcomes are seen in substance abuse programs which have an intensive inpatient element.
  3. Focus on the Unique Needs of Teenagers—teenagers are still developing physically and emotionally and mixing teenagers with adult populations or using treatment methods that are effective for adults are not effective.  Effective adolescent treatment facilities have the following components:
    1. Active family involvement in the treatment process
    2. Focus on teaching problem-solving and coping skills as well as the building of self-esteem and effective communication.
    3. Recognizes that teens who abuse drugs often have co-occurring mental disorders.

In order for adolescent treatment to become more widespread and have better quality, there has to be more focus on channeling funds into those programs that rely on government assistance.  With those funds, adolescent substance abuse treatment centers need to feature a wide variety of programs that focus on family dynamics and development, twelve step programming, self-image and esteem and well as a focus on the mental health of those teens who are in treatment.  These treatment facilities also need to have in place comprehensive relapse prevention plans as well as aftercare programs. Additionally, an increase in privately-owned treatment programs would aid in filling the need of more quality adolescent substance abuse treatment centers. Finally, a major component of these facilities programs must be a strong family program, offering education, support and even treatment for the families of teens suffering from drug and alcohol addiction.

Tim Powers – bald, tattooed, a business professional by day and rocker by night. Tim has written doze of pieces for Sober Nation and continues to share his stories in order to pay it forward.