The problem of teen drug abuse is not a new one. As a nation concerned with our youth, we have struggled with teen drug use for many years. The good news is that recent surveys from 2014 and 2015 show a tend towards an overall decrease in the teen use of illicit drugs. The SAMSHA report from 2014, “Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health” (http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FRR1-2014/NSDUH-FRR1-2014.pdf) states that among adolescents aged 12 to 17 those who were current (past month) tobacco users declined by roughly half, from 15.2 percent in 2002 to 7.0 percent in 2014. Illegal alcohol use also dropped from 17.6 percent to 11.5 percent over the same period, as did the level of current non-medical users of prescription pain relievers, dropping from 3.2 percent in 2002 to 1.9 percent in 2014 among adolescents aged 12 to 17.
Unfortunately these gains are not across the board with all substance abuse. There is a reported increase in marijuana use, with most marijuana use starting in adolescence; 78% of the 2.4 million people who began using in the last year were ages 12 to 20. (http://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/infographics/marijuana-use-educational-outcomes) Heroin use is also increasing among teens. According to the SAMSHA report, current heroin use increased from 0.1 percent of the population age 12 and older in 2013 to 0.2 in 2014.
Although the gains in the fight against teen drug abuse are encouraging, more needs to be done. The increases in marijuana and heroin use and the still unacceptably high rate of alcohol use and binge drinking (approximately 40 percent of 12th graders have reported being drunk in the past year) is an on-going concern. Evidence based prevention efforts have proven to be the most effective way to reduce drug use and to support the roughly 90 percent of American youth who do not use illicit drugs. Encouraging peer based support and the promotion of an anti-drug philosophy among youth is the key to continued long term reductions in teen drug use. Education and open dialogue about the negative consequences of substance abuse must be continued and increased.
In addition to prevention, continued efforts to provide evidence based treatment and recovery must be a priority. Youth require age and developmentally specific treatment and the availability of treatment for adolescents is limited. Reports estimate that approximately 1.5 million teenagers meet criteria for a diagnosis of a substance use disorder. Only 7% of those receive treatment for the disorder. With these statistics it is clear that a more aggressive approach to providing treatment needs to be taken.
Drug treatment approaches need to be tailored to meet the developmental needs of teens. Adolescents’ brains are not fully developed, specifically the pre-frontal cortex, which regulates impulse control, reasoning, goal setting and judgment, making teens more prone to thrill seeking, impulsivity and disregard for the potential for negative consequences. There is also evidence that adolescent substance use is a risk factor for on-going substance use and adult dependence, legal issues, lower academic functioning, higher rates of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and co-occurring mental health problems.
Family Support for Teen Drug Abuse
Family therapy is a key component in the treatment of teen drug abuse. Family based programs that address dysfunctional family dynamics can assist in improving communication, cohesiveness, problem solving skills and other family stressors that may contribute to substance abuse in adolescent family members. Group and individual therapy have also been proven effective, as are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Brief Intervention/Motivational Interviewing, and the Contingency Management Reinforcement approach. 12 Step programs can also provide a positive support and on-going recovery, particularly when youth oriented. In addition to evidence based treatment modalities, comprehensive screening, assessment and services to address any cooccurring medical, mental health, educational, legal and family issues are crucial to adolescent treatment. Therapists and support staff must be trained and well versed in working with teens and their families and knowledgable in age and developmentally appropriate interventions. Aftercare and a continuum of care that provides on-going support and reinforcement of learned recovery and coping skills is also a critical element of a successful outcome.
With continued education, supportive and comprehensive prevention, along with increased availability to age specific and developmentally appropriate, evidenced based treatment the current gains in reducing teen drug abuse can be maintained and increased. For help with a teen who is suffering from drug abuse call Beachway at 888-345-7505 or contact us today.
This post was written by: Elizabeth Ossip, LCSW, CAP, ICADC