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Treating Teen Substance Abuse: Having a Choice and a Voice

December 22, 2020

By Carrie B. Pichie, PhD
Regional Director Of Ambulatory Services
Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network, East Region

An estimated 1.5 million adolescents in the United States need substance abuse treatment, yet only one in 10 receive the treatment they need.

With an estimated 50 percent of teens having misused a drug at least once, teen substance abuse is a real concern for families and communities. Alcohol and drugs can lead to catastrophic events such as car accidents and sexual assault. Substance use can lead to depression and other behavioral health issues.

In years past, it was common for parents to “force” teens into treatment, “dragging” them to counseling and preaching that they MUST stop their use. Research has shown this is not an effective approach. Based on various factors in adolescence, such as developmental stage, peer pressures and feeling invincible, teens often think that substance use will not negatively affect them, especially not long-term.

The Seven Challenges is an evidence-based treatment approach with a philosophy that teens can relate to, certainly better than the philosophy of “hurry up and quit.” With this model of treatment, change is not forced — but rather motivated. Through motivation, teens commit to a level of change that resonates with them.

The program helps teens to examine their choices and make healthy decisions on their road to recovery. Most often, Seven Challenges uses a group therapy approach.

The Seven Challenges guide youth to make healthy decisions based on these principles:

  • Talking honestly about ourselves and using alcohol and drugs.
  • Looking at what we like about alcohol and other drugs and why we use them.
  • Looking at our use and seeing if it has caused harm or could cause harm.
  • Looking at our responsibility and the responsibility of others for our problems.
  • Thinking about where we are headed, where we want to go and what we want to accomplish.
  • Making thoughtful decisions about our lives and our use of alcohol and drugs.
  • Following through on our decisions about our lives and our use.

Every year that substance use is delayed during the period of adolescent brain development, the risk of addiction and substance abuse decreases. It’s an important point for parents and their children to know. Although teen substance use can have devastating effects, there is help available.

Natchaug Hospital provides six treatment programs for youth across eastern Connecticut, in Mansfield, Danielson, Norwich, Groton, Old Saybrook and Enfield. For more information, please call 1.800.426.7792 or click here.

For more information on teen substance use and treatment, Dr. Pichie and Kerri Griffin, LCSW, will be hosting a free, virtual webinar on Thursday, Jan. 28, at 6 p.m. To register, call 1.855.HHC.HERE (855.442.4373).