National Clearinghouse on Homeless Youth and Families

The Problem of Adolescent Drug Abuse: An Introduction to Intervention Strategies

Beschner, G.
Year Published: Not Dated

In 1983, one in 18 high school seniors reported that they used marijuana daily, and 57 percent of them had at some time experimented with the drug. Since that study, adolescent drug use has decreased. But the problem has not gone away completely, and some alarming new statistics have emerged. A number of drug users do not fit the commonly held profile of "alienated teenage loser". The new substance abusers are young people who have achieved some level of success in school. The problems of young people who enter substance abuse treatment include family situations, multiple drug use patterns, psychological and socioeconomic factors, and the admittedly difficult of moving through adolescence unscathed. But because adolescents have not transitioned to adulthood, the negative effects of heavy drug use are greater than in adult users. The author details the characteristics presented by adolescent drug users, and the family factors, problems presented by adolescents entering treatment, types of adolescents in drug treatment, and special treatment modalities for adolescent drug users. A comparison of outpatient drug-free (DFOP) and residential programs reveal the significant differences in the two approaches to adolescent drug treatment. The level of counseling and psychotherapy differ considerably. DFOP devoted 69 percent of staff time to counseling and [psychotherapy, while residential programs reported only 40 percent of staff time was devoted to those services. The education level of DFOP counselors was higher than residential counselors; 54 percent of DFOP counselors had graduate degrees or higher, while only 29 percent of residential counselors had the same qualifications. However, both programs identified three treatment goals from a list of 19. The final pages of this report feature model adolescent treatment programs. The author concludes that significant progress has been made in this area. But adolescents tend to see their substance abuse use as a less-than-serious problem. In follow-up studies after drug treatment, adolescents continued to use drugs and alcohol at pre-treatment levels. Until therapists can change this perception, treatment modalities of any kind cannot make a real impact on the problem.