Substance Use Treatment Center for Teens
Experimenting with drugs, alcohol, and vaping has become a common thing among teenagers today, with more than half of teens reporting occasional substance use. This can make it difficult to identify whether your teen is just using socially or if they are experiencing substance use issues. Ultimately, the risks of substance use are more acute among teenagers, who are more vulnerable to the effects of substances and have trouble knowing their limitations.
Early intervention for substance abuse issues can help teens develop healthier patterns that they can carry with them through adulthood. Elevations RTC is a holistic substance use treatment center for teens that focuses on how co-occurring mental health struggles can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, like substance use.
The guide is meant to be comprehensive, but as such, not every section will be applicable to everyone. Instead, we invite you to click on the links in the table of contents to jump to the sections that most interest you.
Table of Contents
- How Does Elevations RTC Help Teens with Substance Use Issues?
- How do I know if my teen is experimenting with drugs and alcohol or struggling with substance use?
- What topics are focused on in specialized groups for substance use issues at Elevations?
- Substance Use Assignments in Residential Treatment
- Relapse Prevention and Transition Planning
How Does Elevations RTC Help Teens with Substance Use Issues?
Our substance use programming depends largely on our current student make up and the needs of students. When we have multiple students struggling with substance use issues or other overuse/abuse related issues (such as issues with technology use, pornography, gaming, etc.), we may form specialized groups that discuss these issues in depth. When we have one student struggling with these issues and there aren’t any others currently on campus with these challenges, we work with the student on an individual basis.
The focus of substance use and addiction programming at Elevations is helping students better understand the connection between substance use and the underlying issues that may be spurring on their continued harmful behaviors. Most of the group work that we do with students is adapted from Rational Recovery work, and at times, concepts from the 12 step model. These models help reinforce students’ understanding of how relationships are impacted by substance use and that attempting to become sober on your own is not realistic or effective.
How do I know if my teen is experimenting with drugs and alcohol or struggling with substance use?
Many teenagers consider experimenting with alcohol, and sometimes other substances, as a rite of passage and believe that even if it becomes a habit, it is something they will grow out of as they get older. High rates of teen drinking may be due to boredom, because it’s an easy way to socialize, or because teenagers are in a stage in their lives where they want to explore and experiment with different identities, interests, and goals.
While it may be somewhat common among teenagers, most teens go to lengths to hide their substance use from their parents, which indicates that they anticipate their parents will disapprove of the risks they are taking associated with substance use.
Some signs of substance use may include:
- Risky behaviors
- Changes in behavior
- Frequent change in friends
- Withdrawal from family, activities, and routines
- Lying to family
- Violating parental rules, such as curfew
- Slurring of speech
- Skipping school or changes in academic performance
Does my teen’s substance use make them an “addict”?
We believe that labeling teens as “addicts” at a young age can make them more likely to experience continued problems with substance use. Most teens experiment with substances socially without experiencing any legal problems, health problems, or relationship struggles. However, those that are already vulnerable to these struggles are more likely to experience the consequences of substance use and not quite know how to handle them.
Risk factors for substance use issues may include:
- Family history of substance use issues or mental health struggles
- Personal history of mental health struggles
- High levels of stress
- Low self-esteem
- Using substances alone
- Substance use interferes with other responsibilities or relationships
- Using substances to cope with emotions, rather than for fun
Instead, we believe that, for some teens, substance use can be considered a type of process addiction–not unlike video game or social media addiction or even self harm. Substance use is just one of many unhealthy coping mechanisms teens adopt to cope with mental health struggles. As a result, it is more effective to focus on the underlying or intersecting issues that affect substance use rather than the effects of substance use in individual and group therapy.
We also believe that substance use in teens can be considered a learning disorder, as their brains have been rewired to process information about motivation, reward, and punishment differently. The goal of substance use treatment for teens is to retrain the brain to learn healthier ways of coping while their brain is in a critical developmental stage.
What topics are focused on in specialized groups for substance use issues at Elevations?
The role of thinking errors on substance use. When we have specialized groups focusing on substance use, we spend time doing psychoeducational group work that focuses on the role of thinking errors on substance use. In a nutshell, thinking errors are irrational beliefs that we believe to be rational. They are permission-giving thoughts, ways that we rationalize and explain away behaviors that are harmful and ineffective. For example, a thinking error might be something like, “I only spent 4 hours on my computer yesterday, so I can spend 10 hours on it this weekend.”
After we engage in permission-giving thoughts, this leads to carrying out the harmful behaviors of substance abuse and technology abuse – whether that is turning on the gaming console or going to get drugs. We help students understand this cycle and begin to work towards breaking away from their individual patterns of behaviors earlier on.
The impact of substance use on relationships. Another important topic of discussion within psychoeducation groups is the impact that substance use has on family members, friends, and social environments. Many times, adolescents don’t realize how their substance use is affecting others. Recently, I held a group in which we discussed the ways that students may have used lies and manipulation in order to continue with their substance use.
Within the discussion, we spoke about how substance use can cause the lines of reality to be blurred and things that we think are normal aren’t actually the way we believe them to be. Discussions like these can be extremely powerful for students.
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What types of therapy are recommended for teens with ADHD?
In addition to working with an academic adviser about how ADHD affects one’s school performance, Elevations RTC offers a variety of therapeutic approaches for teens with ADHD. Our therapists are trained in a wide range of modalities and work closely with each student and their treatment team to come up with an individualized treatment plan. Some of the types of therapy we offer include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This technique encourages teens to become more aware of their negative thoughts and how this can get in the way of staying present and feeling confident.
- Mindfulness. One of the core components of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, mindfulness, is particularly effective in helping teens with ADHD build self-awareness and improve emotion regulation.
- Recreation Therapy. Teens with ADHD often benefit from a more active therapeutic approach. Students at Elevations participate in weekly off-campus outings, where they can explore new hobbies and skills.
- Genote Lab. Elevations RTC uses therapeutic music technology to help teens improve their sleep health, concentration skills, and stress management.
Substance Use Assignments in Residential Treatment
In addition to discussions within psychoeducational groups about the effects of different substances, we encourage students in specialized substance use groups to work on assignments that highlight the ways substance use has served them or has harmed them, including:
- The Masks We Wear. In this activity, students draw on physical masks and discuss how they present themselves to others and how they are really feeling inside. They may explore why they don’t like expressing or don’t know how to express certain emotions or the underlying secondary emotions that are hiding behind emotions, like anger or sadness.
- The Wall Assignment. This assignment is usually carried out after we’ve already done The Masks We Wear. When a student is at a stage in their healing process where they’re ready, we have them create a wall. On the outside of the wall, we discuss all the ways they put up walls to protect themselves or to avoid dealing with problems. On the interior of the wall, we discuss what students are covering up. We talk about how students view themselves, how they believe people view them, and how they would like to be viewed. We also discuss their worst fears and what it would mean if people found out who they really were.
- Making Amends. Making Amends is an exercise that we have adapted from a 12 step model. In this exercise, we help students understand the differences between apologizing to people without intent and making amends. Rather than making apologies, making amends is making an inventory of our actions and how they affected family and friends. When we make amends, we reach out to people who we may have wronged or angered, taking accountability and recognizing what part we played in our actions. At Elevations, we build towards this step and it often occurs during home visits towards the end of treatment or during family therapy sessions.
Relapse Prevention and Transition Planning
As students who struggle with substance use issues prepare to graduate from Elevations, we develop a relapse prevention plan depending on each individual student’s needs. We take a look at the various facets of their lives that affected substance use and plan what needs to be done differently to avoid falling back into old patterns.
We focus our attention on:
- Relationships with family and friends: Are there family members or friends who promote drug use or are actively abusing? What kinds of boundaries should students have with them?
- Environment: Do we need to determine a new place for students to hangout with their friends because their old hangout spot has people using drugs or alcohol?
- School: What impact has school had on substance use? What kind of support do students need to prevent stress-related substance use?
Our intensive family programming is designed to help repair relationships at home and rebuild trust so that teens have a stronger support system when they return. We also help teens look for resources in their community, like support groups or healthy social activities, to help keep them accountable during their transition.
For some students who have made significant progress in therapy, but are still anxious about continuing to utilize resources at home, we have a transitional living program, called The Approach that helps teens feel more confident and equipped with the skills they need to transition successfully back home. By integrating more into the community, students are able to practice managing everyday stresses without turning to substances to cope.
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