Teen Treatment for Substance Use Disorder- How it Works

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Substance abuse can wreak havoc on an adolescent’s health and social and academic responsibilities [1]. While substance abuse can have negative short-term consequences, teen substance abuse can negatively impact an individual’s health into their adult years [1].

For these reasons, treatment for substance abuse is important for teens. Treatment for teen substance abuse will depend on how severe the addiction is. There are different levels of care, including inpatient, residential, intensive outpatient programs, and standard outpatient providers.

Aside from standard outpatient care, certain aspects of treatment are common amongst the different levels of care mentioned above. This is how teen substance use treatment tends to work:

Individual Therapy for Teen Substance Use Disorder

Substance use treatment usually involves individual therapy with a mental health professional. While addiction recovery involves behavioral changes, there is always an emotional component [2]. Substance abuse is often an attempt to cope with emotional distress or mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, or trauma.

Individual therapy can help someone develop insight into the emotional reasons they were using and develop appropriate coping skills. Therapy is also a form of emotional support on the path to sobriety. This process can be emotionally difficult, and a therapist’s support can help someone achieve and maintain sobriety.

Family Therapy

family supporting their daughter through teen substance use disorder treatmentFamily therapy can be beneficial for a few reasons while a teen is in treatment. While it may seem that the “problem” is only with the teen struggling with addiction, one family member’s struggle often reflects a broader familial problem.

Whether it’s communication issues or something more severe, like domestic violence, teen substance abuse often reflects a familial issue. Family therapy provides an opportunity to learn new ways to interact as a family.

Support from a family therapist can also help other family members who have also been impacted by the addiction. Family therapy can also provide a safe space for adolescents to share things with the family they withheld that contributed to their addiction. It also allows family members to figure out how to support their adolescent in staying sober.

Group Therapy

Group therapy is an opportunity to give and receive support and feedback from people with similar issues. This can be especially beneficial because hearing from other people in a similar situation can decrease feelings of shame and isolation that tend to develop as a result of substance abuse.

Groups can also serve as a form of peer accountability. There are a variety of group therapy options that a treatment facility may provide.

Traditional group therapy involves talking as a group about a variety of topics. Some treatment centers incorporate experiential therapies such as art, music, or equine therapy. The benefit of a variety of treatment approaches is that each approach is a unique opportunity for growth and healing.

Medical Supervision in Teen Substance Use Disorder Treatment

Substance abuse treatment often involves support from a medical professional due to the impact that substances can have on someone’s physical health. The level of medical supervision will vary depending on the level of care that someone is eligible for.

For example, a medical professional may provide 24-hour supervision while someone is detoxing from drugs in order to make sure the withdrawal process is safe. It is important that regardless of how severe a teen’s addiction is, that they receive treatment.

Addictions can become more severe if left untreated and can lead to devastating consequences [1]. There are a variety of treatment options available, and each one has something to offer on the path to sobriety.


[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, February 10). Teen substance use and risks. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/features/teen-substance-use.html

[2] Maté, G. (2008) In the realm of hungry ghosts. North Atlantic Press.

About the Author:

Samantha Bothwell PhotoSamantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on October 27, 2020
Reviewed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on October 27, 2020
Published on AddictionHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.