New Directions: The Value of Early Treatment for Adolescents

It is sometimes thought that drug treatment for adolescents is a waste because they are too young to get sober. It is thought that they have not yet experienced enough wreckage in their lives to have a desire to get sober, that they are still so full of denial which exacerbates the insanity aspect of this disease, and so are unable to truly appreciate treatment of any kind. While this belief is held by some and perhaps stems from the belief that rock bottom is the only way that change happens, mounting evidence shows this thought to be erroneous and that early treatment for adolescents can help to greatly reduce the damage caused by addiction and give teens a fighting chance at overcoming their substance abuse problems. I find it somewhat ironic that in almost every other disease or disorder early prevention is preached as the gold standard and yet the bottom line is that the resources that are currently available to Adolescents are a pitiful drop in the bucket for what is needed.

Juvenile addiction treatment is fairly new compared to its adult counterparts and for many years adolescents were only offered treatment services that were based on adult models. They would attend outpatient like adults would, or they would go away to long-term treatment centers like adults would, but in the past few years this has begun to change and there has been a shift towards providing treatment services based on the needs of adolescents.

One such service offered that was created to better meet the needs of adolescent addicts and alcoholics are recovery schools. Recovery schools are a fairly new concept and they are essentially what they sound like, schools with an emphasis on living an alcohol and drug-free life.

One of the largest stumbling blocks for recovering adolescents is the fact that once they complete treatment they are thrown right back into their old environments, with the same friends and the same temptations that they had before. As much as we would like to think that high schools are drug-free zones, most American high schools are a veritable one-stop shop for narcotics and alcohol. This makes getting and staying sober rather difficult for a teen and that is where recovery schools come into play.

Most of the time an adolescent will attend a recovery school after they attend a long-term inpatient treatment center and it gives them an opportunity to continue to be in healthy, recovery based environments after the support of treatment is over. The teens who attend these schools are all recovering from an addiction and the schools even offer classes centered around recovery in order to create a culture of sobriety that traditional schools, do not have.

Recovery schools have proven to be particularly helpful in allowing teens to maintain their sobriety and this is because it offers them the same thing that their adult counterparts can find in 12 Step programs, a sense of community. Many recovering teens find it difficult to find a sense of community within 12 Step programs because the age difference is sometimes tremendous, but in recovery schools they can find the recovery community that they need.

Recovery schools also work in collaboration with Alternative Peer Groups, which are essentially therapeutic meetings, somewhat centered on the Steps, but specifically for teens. This allows the adolescents to experience a sense of community and support outside of their schools, which is often times important for their continued sobriety.

It also makes logical sense if you think about it, that early treatment in adolescents would be of great value to helping them with their addictions. Think of it this way, if you were diagnosed with an illness, wouldn’t you rather the doctors catch it early and intervene rather than find out about it after the disease had progressed a great deal? Even if during your first attempts at treatment the disease was not sent into remission or cured, having an early intervention on it would mean that there would be more time to try to combat it and a better chance at a successful recovery.

The same is true for addiction. By offering treatment to adolescents, it at the very least plants the seeds of recovery in them, so that if they do not get sober immediately, they at least know what to do later on in life. It also creates a scenario where the adolescents can no longer deny that they have a problem, because their addiction has been brought out of the darkness and into the light.

I have a friend who has worked in adolescent drug treatment for 20 years and he told me that the way that he sees his job is as such: try to give the teens that come to his center the tools they need in order to stay sober, but if this is not possible then at least try to ruin their drinking and using for them, and show them that recovery is possible. He explained to me that by ruin their drinking and using, he means that he wants to awaken that part of their consciousness that is asleep during active addiction. The part that says what they are doing is not okay, which is usually silenced by the disease of addiction and the denial that blankets it. He wants his clients to see his face the next time they drink or use drugs and by possibly ruining the joy they got out of using, they may get sober quicker.

That is part of the goal of adolescent treatment, to raise awareness to the fact that recovery is possible and shake the denial out of the kids that go to treatment. Alcoholism and addiction are tricky diseases and they will stop at nothing to reach their goal, but by intervening early on in teens, we at least offer them a possibility for change that may not have been present if treatment was not available.

Rose Lockinger is a passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.

You can find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, & Instagram

Leave a comment