How Teen Addiction Therapy Works

An individual’s teenage years are often a time of self-exploration and risk-taking, which may include substance use. When this exploration goes too far, therapy and addiction treatment may be needed to get your teen back on track. There are many effective addiction therapy methods for teens, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, and motivational interviewing.

According to the Monitoring the Future Survey, in 2023, 31.2% of 12th graders and 19.8% of 10th graders reported using some form of illicit drug in the past year.

Depending on the severity of your teen’s substance use disorder (SUD) and other personal needs, there are several options for treatment, including inpatient and outpatient programs. These programs will utilize therapy techniques that are tailored to the unique, age-specific needs of adolescents, like self-esteem development, to help your teen recover from a SUD.

Therapy included in a teen’s treatment plan may consist of individual, group, and family therapy, as well as a variety of behavioral therapy techniques used to help develop healthy coping skills, relationship-building skills, and other skills important to future development. The teen will likely be connected to a therapist who can decide on the most beneficial forms of therapy based on the teen’s specific needs.

Types Of Therapy Utilized In Teen Rehab

Teens respond more positively to therapy that considers their unique developmental stage, including sensitivity to social cues and connection. For example, many teen treatment centers employ gender-specific treatment, finding that adolescents are able to better focus on themselves and develop supportive same-gender friendships, which is important for recovery when separated from the opposite sex.

Other considerations may include screening and assessment for co-occurring mental health disorders, like anxiety and depression, which are common among teens who use substances. Mental health conditions often contribute to substance use in people who suffer from both, so treating both conditions simultaneously leads to better long-term outcomes.

Various therapy techniques utilized in teen treatment include:

Family Therapy 

Family therapy is a cornerstone of teen therapy, as family support and involvement is essential for the recovery of teens dealing with SUDs. Guided by a mental health counselor or licensed therapist, family therapy often involves a parent or guardian and other close family or friends. It may involve addressing co-occurring family problems or conflicts that may contribute to teen substance use. More specific family-involved therapies may include multidimensional family therapy, brief strategic family therapy, and functional family therapy. The overall goal of family therapy is to help build stronger family relationships and mutual understanding to help support the teen’s long-term recovery.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a common form of talk therapy rooted in the idea that a person’s thoughts affect their emotions, and their emotions then affect their behavior. Therefore, the goal of CBT in teen therapy is to teach teens how to recognize their negative thought patterns, process them, and learn how to respond in a healthy way. CBT helps teens:

  • Deal with stress in healthier ways
  • Be more compassionate to themselves and others
  • Learn to better self-regulate anxiety and fears
  • Develop emotional intelligence

Most importantly, CBT helps teens develop the skills to better manage their emotions and form healthy thought patterns that they’ll carry into adulthood.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) 

DBT is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on identifying and stopping destructive behaviors (like substance use) and then working on the adverse thinking patterns that lead to such behaviors. With an emphasis on mindfulness and distress tolerance, DBT has been beneficial in helping teens cope and regulate their emotions while also treating co-occurring disorders, such as substance use, depression, and eating disorders.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy 

Motivational enhancement therapy (also known as motivational interviewing), helps resolve ambivalence about changing behavior. In teen therapy, motivational interviewing helps teens create small, doable steps that allow them to recognize their control over their decisions and increase a desire for positive changes. Noted benefits for teens include heightened self-esteem and self-confidence, often leading to positive changes in thought-patterns and behavior.

Multisystemic Therapy (MST) 

MST addresses factors associated with severe antisocial behaviors that may contribute to teen substance use. Examples include characteristics of the teen, family, school, peers, or neighborhood, such as favorable attitudes toward drugs and poor school performance.

Experiential Therapy 

Some teen treatment programs offer different forms of experiential therapy, a form of therapy that focuses on healing through action-oriented experiences. Experiential therapy is beneficial for teens, as they are still developing and may not have the ability to work through emotions and trauma through psychotherapy alone. It is particularly beneficial for teens who struggle with or may resist talk-therapy techniques.

Experiential therapy can include:

While each modality is different, experiential therapies provide the experiences and actions often needed to change one’s perception.

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Why Do Teens Misuse Drugs And Alcohol?

Understanding why a teen has begun to use alcohol or drugs may feel confusing. However, the experience of hormonal changes, the non-uniform maturation process of the brain, and an evolutionary drive to gain independence during adolescence can lead to decisions that may be considered risky. Additionally, teens commonly experience high emotions, intense peer pressure, and the temptation of short-term rewards. These situations may overwhelm the still-developing area of the brain involved in reasoning and impulse control, leading to risky behaviors.

The particular reasons for substance use may vary per person, but there are known risk factors for substance use and other risky behaviors among teens:

  • Experiencing extreme poverty or over-crowding at home
  • Family history of substance use
  • Experiencing forms of trauma and abuse
  • Frequent family conflict

  • Parental approval of or involvement with substance use
  • Spending time with peers who use substances
  • Feeling alienated
  • Lack of connection in school

It’s important to remember that this is not an exclusive list, and there may be other reasons for your teen’s substance abuse.

Signs Of Teenage Addiction

If you are wondering whether your teen is misusing substances, there are signs to look for. Additional signs may be present when a SUD has developed.

Signs your teen may be using substances include:

  • Frequent or sudden changes in friend group
  • Withdrawal from usual family activities, routines, or outings
  • Unusual or violent behavior
  • Uncharacteristic defiance or angry reactions to behavioral questions
  • Signs of intoxication, such as disinhibition, slurred speech, and talkativeness
  • Decline in school performance
  • Loss of motivation
  • Neglect of personal hygiene and appearance
  • Changes in personality
  • Mood instability, including depression
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain

Some behavioral or personality changes may overlap with normative behavioral changes during adolescence. Knowing your teen and paying attention to sudden, uncharacteristic changes is important.

Featured Centers Offering Treatment for Teens

Choosing The Right Program For Your Teen

The effects of drugs and alcohol on the developing brain can be severe, causing long-term effects. The majority of adults with diagnosed substance use disorders began misusing substances during their teens, so it’s important to address the issue of substance abuse immediately. If you are concerned that your teen may have a problem with drugs or alcohol, help is available, and many addiction therapy options exist to fit the unique needs of your teen and family.

Visit our rehab directory to find teen rehab centers near you or call and speak to a treatment provider today.