Early Interventions Can Save Teens From Chronic Alcoholism to Drug Addiction
Many alcoholics or drug addicts who enter addiction treatment programs do so because they "bottom out." Bottoming out means their lives have spun so out of control that they finally admit to themselves that they have a problem. Often there is a triggering event such as an automobile accident, an arrest or incarceration, being fired from a job, flunking out of college, or even losing the support of a spouse or lover. Such an event either triggers court-ordered addiction treatment or makes the addict finally decide to enter a treatment program on his or her own.
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Drug addicts tend to "bottom out" before alcoholics. An alcoholic can function as normal person for years, even as the disease is slowly killing the body by damaging vital organs such as the brain and liver.
"Early intervention" means entering addiction treatment before bottoming out and before the addiction becomes so habitual that it is almost impossible to cure. Some experts recognize four stages of alcohol or drug addiction. In stages one and two, the teen uses the substance in a social setting. In stage three, the teen starts to arrange his life around drugs. In stage four, the focus of the teen's day is "getting high." Addiction treatment works best if the teen enters in stage one or two.
However, alcoholics and addicts rarely seek treatment when they first start using. Young people in particular tend to avoid addiction treatment until after age 30, even though they may have developed their chemical dependence in middle or high school. Another reason for delayed treatments is that parents are often unaware of their children's problems.
A study printed in the September 2006 journal of Pediatrics concluded that those who become alcoholics at an early age are more likely to develop a brand of alcoholism that is very resistant to treatment. There have been other studies on the value of early intervention, but most of them deal with how much money it saves society in lost wages, property damage, and health care expenses. For example, the Swedish government did an extensive scientific survey of addition treatment in order to find more cost-effective programs. One conclusion was early intervention is a key way for the Swedish government to save taxpayers money. Similarly, a study at Iowa State University estimated that preventing a single case of adult alcoholism saves society almost $120,000 and recommended more state-sponsored encouragement of such cost-effective interventions.
Early intervention may prevent teenagers from developing chronic addiction but there is a catch. There may be only a small "window of opportunity" for intervention, which means if you do not intervene before a certain point, the addiction becomes more entrenched and "problematical". This was the conclusion of a study was done in Australia among 2010 heroin addicts ages 18 to 24 years old.
Many people believe that unless an addict or alcoholic seeks addiction treatment on his or her own, the treatment will not work. However, this has been proven false. A study at University of California-Los Angeles found that treatment outcomes were not different for a group of methamphetamine addicts who were legally pressured into treatment from a group that entered treatment without such pressure. Another study found that those addicts and alcoholics who said they needed help at the beginning of a residential treatment program did not fare any better than those who said they did not. These and other studies indicate that once a person is in actual treatment, the original way he or she got in there is not very relevant.
There is no one best way to force a teenager into addiction treatment. Some parents actually hire third-party professional "interventionists" to come to their homes and lead their families through the process. Sometimes family doctors can help. Some families unite with their teens' friends to intervene together. Some treatment centers provide counselors to help with interventions. Some have professional escorts who drive teenagers to residential addiction centers. Intervention is always a difficult situation, but the alternative of doing nothing is worse for the future of the loved one.