Teen Substance Abuse

Teens turn to drugs and alcohol for many reasons, but it is important to understand that drug and alcohol abuse in teens are symptoms of a larger problem.  In treatment at Adolescent Growth, adolescents learn to identify the underlying causes of their substance abuse and cope effectively, without using drugs or alcohol.

Why do teens abuse substances?

According to a study released by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, nine out of ten Americans who meet the medical criteria for addiction started using their drug of choice before the age of eighteen.  The same report also found that three-quarters of high school students have used addictive substances at least once. Authors of the study classified teen substance abuse as the #1 public health problem in America Today.

But why do so many teens make the decision to use drugs and alcohol?  Studies show that there are many reasons why adolescents use drugs. Here are the five most common reasons teens experiment with drugs or alcohol:


  1. Peer Pressure – Pressure from other teens is the most commonly cited reasons that young people try drugs and alcohol. Peer relationships and being “popular” are extremely important for teens and fitting in can quickly become more important to a self-conscious adolescent than even their own personal safety. Teens who are struggling to fit in or are self conscious about their social standing have an extremely difficult time saying no.


As a parent it is important for you to understand that the consequences of a teen saying no can sometimes be painful and severe.  Being teased, laughed at, humiliated, rejected or even bullied are common consequences that teens face if they are unwilling or unable to be a part of the crowd.  Understanding the pressures that your child faces can help you support them to make the right decision.


  1. Curiosity – Movies, television and popular music often glorify drugs and alcohol and gush about how fun it is to experiment with drugs . It is no wonder that many teens are curious about the effects that drugs and alcohol may have on them.  This effect is exacerbated when their peers begin using and discussion of drugs and alcohol becomes a part of their peer group’s activities and a source of “fun” for their friends.


Teenagers are at a stage in their life when they are getting to know themselves and the world around them and as such it is natural to be curious, particularly about something that is so glorified in media and popular culture.  Many give in to the temptation to find out what it feels like “just this once”, and an all-or-nothing type of thinking ultimately wins over; “I’ve already done it once, so I might as well try it again.”  Teens often find that they enjoy the feeling of being drunk or high and feel good knowing that they are a part of the crowd.


  1. Self-medicating – Many teens experience a great deal of stress in their day to day lives. Everything from pressure to do well in school, fears about not fitting in and sometimes family problems like a divorce can affect their stress levels.  Some teens even suffer from undiagnosed mental health problems.  These stressors can lead teens down a destructive path when they learn that drugs and alcohol can alter the way that they feel.  They begin using substances as a way of self-medicating.  For many teens, drugs and alcohol do not even make them feel better, they simply make them feel “different”, which is enough at times to satisfy a teen who is experiencing a great deal of stress and emotional pain.


For example, a socially awkward or shy teen may find that alcohol lowers their inhibitions and they suddenly become the life of the party, or a teen whose parents are going through a divorce may find that drugs temporary alleviate the stress of their home life.  It is important for teens to learn healthy ways to cope with stress and pain lest they begin to use drugs and alcohol as a maladaptive tool for dealing with stress at school and at home.


  1. Rebellion – Teenage years are a time of trying new things and sometimes testing limits. Most teens will, from time to time, be disobedient, irritable or disagreeable.  Some teens perceive drug use as a form of rebellion and often begin to use drugs as a way to defy the rule makers and assert their independence.  The simple fact that they have been told “no” is enough to entice them to try drugs or alcohol.


Teens who have poor or underdeveloped communication skills often rebel against authority through behavior rather than words, which makes them particularly vulnerable to drug use.  If they are unable or unwilling to assert themselves verbally, they will often do so by abusing drugs, coming home drunk or high or missing curfews in order to use.


  1. Boredom – Teens who have too much time on their hands, are unable to tolerate being alone, or have a great deal of pent up energy are susceptible to abusing drugs. While this does not mean that teen’s shouldn’t have free time, it is known that teens who are involved in a sport or a hobby that they love are far less likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol than “free range”
    teens who have little supervision, spend a great deal of time alone or have no outlet for their energy and excitement.


These types of teens often find themselves spending time with the wrong crowd and with so much unsupervised free time, they are liable to experiment with drugs and alcohol for one of the reasons listed above.  Teens need at least some structure and supervision lest they find unhealthy ways to cope with boredom.

Treatment of Teenage Substance Abuse and Addiction:  A Holistic Approach

It is important for teens who abuse drugs or alcohol to receive treatment, and it is paramount that treatment address the problem holistically.  At Adolescent Growth, teen substance abuse is regarded as only one symptom of a larger problem, and teens in our care are treated mentally, emotionally, socially, physically and spiritually.

Every teen who walks through our doors is treated with an individualized plan that takes into consideration their unique needs, their strengths and weaknesses and the strides that they make as they progress through our program.  Each treatment plan impacts your child’s mental health in the following ways:

Individual Therapy

In individual therapy, provided up to four times per week, teens are provided with a safe space to explore their feelings and receive valuable on-on-one coaching throughout the process of recovery.  The deeper reasons behind their substance abuse are tackled and handled in an atmosphere of integrity, respect and most of all hope and healing.  Individual therapy takes place with a licensed clinician who will develop a rapport with your child and help them develop a new sense of vigor and enthusiasm for sobriety.

Group Therapy

Group therapy allows teens with substance abuse issues to talk about their struggles with like minded individuals and receive valuable feedback from a licensed group therapist as well as their peers.  At Adolescent Growth, we understand that teens need to feel accepted by their peers, which is why groups encourage teens to speak candidly with each other and offer support and guidance.  Groups focus on many aspects of living a healthy life including distress tolerance, emotion regulation, life skills workshops, mindfulness meditation, interpersonal effectiveness, anger management and much more.

The 12-Step Model

Adolescent Growth follows the 12-step model of recovery.  This tried and true set of principles teaches teens to take responsibility for their substance abuse, make amends for past mistakes and look to their higher power for inspiration and the strength to stay away from drugs and alcohol.  Teens at Adolescent Growth attend 12-step meetings onsite daily and are encouraged to follow the steps to the best of their ability throughout their process of recovery.

Family Therapy

Substance abuse affects the whole family and parents suffer as much as their child does when drugs or alcohol become a problem in the home. To that end, our program treats the issues that arise in families in three different ways.  First, family therapy is provided up to two times a week.  This private session with a licensed clinician focuses on the family as a whole, providing a safe space to explore unresolved emotions and resolve family conflicts.  Second, a parent support group is provided to parents who receive skills training and support from a licensed clinician as well as their peers.  Lastly, our signature Multi Family Restoration Workshop is a full day affair which is designed to restore hope, rebuild relationships and restore order to the family.

Physical Fitness and Nutrition

All meals at Adolescent Growth are planned by a registered dietitian and teens in our care visit a state-of-the-art gym daily.  Throughout the process of recovery, teens begin to feel better and stronger due to the balanced diet and exercise they get on a day to day basis.  Teens at Adolescent Growth often come to discover that much of the lethargy, depression, anxiety and restlessness they experience can be better treated through proper diet, nutrition physical fitness.  The sense of mastery that teens regain when they take control of their physical health is invaluable and truly moving and wonderful to see.


Teens in our care are encouraged to embrace their spiritual side through yoga, meditation, guided imagery, prayer, and non denominational church attendance.  Many effective treatments for substance abuse disorders in teens espouse the value of spirituality in treatment and many of the teens in our care find comfort and inspiration in spirituality.

How To Get Help

If you suspect your child is using drugs or alcohol, you are invited to call us for a free consultation at 888.948.9998.


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