Teen Substance Use Treatment Programming at Elevations RTC

Teen substance use is a growing concern affecting millions of families in the US. At Elevations RTC, when we have students struggling with substance use issues and other addiction-related challenges (such as technology, gaming, or pornography addiction) we organize specialized therapeutic groups to work towards recovery. 

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 I 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. 

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.

The Wall Assignment and Masks We Wear

In addition to discussions within psychoeducational groups, I often have students in specialized substance use groups participate in: 

  • 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. 
  • 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. Additionally, we discuss their worst fears and what it would mean if people found out who they really were. It’s an extremely thorough assignment and can be incredibly powerful for students.

Making Amends

Making Amends is an exercise that I have borrowed from the 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. 

Developing a Relapse Prevention Plan

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?

Fluidity of Substance Use Programming

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. 

For more information about substance use and tech addiction programming at Elevations RTC, please speak to our admissions team at .