Teens in Addiction Treatment Centers Need Support
John is a fifteen-year-old boy with diabetes. He is very angry that he has this disease. He does not want to monitor his diet and insulin levels, give himself injections or prick his finger for blood samples. He does not want to appear different from his friends. Because John does not do what his doctors tell him, he has been in and out of the hospital seven times in the past two years, once in a coma that almost took his life.
Teens who suffer from alcoholism or drug addiction are similar to those with diabetes, asthma, hypertension, bipolar disorder, and other chronic diseases. They don't like being different and they don't want to face the fact that they have a life-long problem. Like their counterparts with other conditions, teen alcoholics and drug addicts don't always comply with doctors' orders. Consequently, they sabotage their health and put themselves at risk until they accept the fact that they have an illness that requires medical treatment and management.
Treatments for drug or alcohol addictions have about the same success rates as treatments for other chronic diseases. However, medical professionals often have to work through an adolescent's resistance to treatment and usually need to enlist support from family and friends. Diabetes is called the "family disease" because parents are so important to its successful treatment. Likewise, alcoholism and drug addiction treatments can require similar heroic support from a teen's family and friends.
What kinds of problems arise when teens are noncompliant? For one thing, teens often leave treatment too early. There is no ideal length of treatment because it depends on individual factors such as how long the teen has been addicted, emotional issues, sex, and intelligence. Counselors and other professionals working with the individual teen determine how long treatment lasts. Several scientific studies indicate that the length of treatment is important to its success.
Yet many teenagers choose to drop out of treatment programs "against medical advice." Often teens in residential treatment programs are simply homesick. Another reason is that most teens make their most significant gains during the first three months of treatment. The teen may feel good physically because he is now free of chemicals and eating a more nutritious diet. She may become over-confident and believe she stay drug-free on her own when she returns home.
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However, the final months of treatment programs are often the times when teens consolidate and reinforce their gains. This process has to continue in the form of "aftercare programs" once the teen is on his own. "Aftercare" or "post-treatment" often comes in form of continued emotional support from professional counselors and 12-Step programs. There are several studies indicating that such programs contribute to long-term success rates.
What helps a teenager remain in treatment long enough to completely recover? One factor is how motivated the teenager is. Since the vast majority of teens in addiction treatment are there through the efforts of their parents or by court order, counselors often use "Motivation Enhancement Therapy" to help the teen acquire the confidence and incentive to stay chemically-free. Such therapy continues in aftercare, a time when the teen has to learn to develop new interests and new friendships, and handle everyday stress without resorting to chemicals.
Another key factor in successful addiction treatment completion is the support of family and friends. Professors at the University of Chicago Psychiatry Department actually found a way to predict which teenagers will drop out of addiction treatment programs. Besides motivation and comorbidities, they found that an important factor in attrition was "minimal or nil parental support." A similar study at the Center for Treatment Research on Adolescent Drug Abuse at the University of Miami also found that "parental and family alliances" were important during post-treatment and a factor in successful continued long-term abstinence from drugs or alcohol.
Just as asthmatic teens don't want to carry inhalers and diabetics hate their syringes, teenage alcoholics and drug addicts often resist treatment. They don't want to be different. Because they refuse to comply, many will relapse and need to repeat addiction treatment several times before they get it right. It can help to think of alcoholism or drug addiction as a "family disease" like diabetes. Parents can get involved, encourage their child to complete and comply with treatment options, and keep them on track for a complete recovery that lasts a lifetime.