It is especially difficult to give teen treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, because you are generally missing a critical element that allows people to recover in other cases. That element is the gift of desperation. What normally happens with addiction and alcoholism is that people struggle for half their life with trying to figure out how to control their using and how to quit successfully and after they struggle long enough and still can’t figure it out, eventually they get desperate. This process takes time though and most addicts agree that they would not be willing to work a program of recovery unless they were truly desperate.
It is rare to find such desperation among teens and so if they are real addicts and alcoholics then they might simply have more using to do before they are ready to stop.
Now in a lot of cases it does not matter much because you cannot necessarily diagnose their addiction at this point. They are young and of course drugs and alcohol are the hip thing to do so in fact it might just be typical drug and alcohol abuse. Even if it is a pattern, this does not necessarily mean that they are addicted. And so it becomes difficult to tell whether or not they are really having a problem or if they are just experimenting and rebelling a bit.
They have found that putting teens into rehab together does not work. They have done studies that show lousy success rates at getting teens to stop using drugs and alcohol by putting them into rehab centers and meetings together. The problem is that they have a tendency to socialize and glorify drugs and end up relapsing together. They talk each other into it in a way that adults do not seem to do in treatment. This might go back to the idea of desperation. Adults who go to treatment are more willing and more ready to actually stop using drugs. Teens who are forced into rehab are probably almost never willing to fully surrender to their addiction, if they even have an addiction. They would argue that “they are too young to have an addiction” and in some ways they are right. It is hard to know if they are an addict because they probably have not been using drugs for very long. Now there will be exceptions to this of course but for most teens who are struggling with drug and alcohol abuse it will not be clear enough whether they are truly addicts or not.
Which of course, makes treatment very difficult. If it is an abuse issue, then you do not necessarily treat that in the same way that you treat hard core drug addiction.
In some ways then, teenage rehab is more about damage control and minimizing the side issues that tend to pop up with drug use issues. For example, teen pregnancy and staying in school are issues that might be focused on just as heavily as the possible drug use. Later on, it might become more evident that drugs are the root problem and not just a “youth gone wild” reaction. But in the teen years it is difficult or even impossible to tell for sure….