Why Teen Substance Abuse is So Difficult to Treat

Why Teen Substance Abuse is So Difficult to Treat


The problem with teen substance abuse is that most teens who are having a problem with this are not even close to being ready to stop experimenting with drugs and alcohol.  If you go to an AA meeting you can get an idea of why this is the case.  Take a look around at an AA meeting and survey the average age of the people there.  The average age is generally above 50 at any given meeting.  What is the significance of that?  People don’t want to stop using drugs and alcohol when they are young. They are still having fun and they have not yet experienced a ton of pain from the addiction yet, so they will have a tendency to continue to use for years and years to come.

Creative Commons License photo credit: The Intrepid Traveler

And so it is with teens and substance abuse: they have very little incentive to stop.  Pretty much any teen can reason that they relatively young and that they have “their whole life ahead of them” and that they can just quit later if they want to.  This type of thinking is very hard to eradicate.  Teens know that they have time to fix something in the future, so why not just have fun now?  Combined with an overall lack of maturity, and a possible lack of common sense, this mindset can be very difficult to overcome.

Another major problem with treating teens for substance abuse has to do with their lack of maturity, especially when getting them together in groups.  Unfortunately, it is very difficult to treat teens in isolation from one another, and the ideal situation for healing is for them to participate in groups and get group therapy from their peers. The problem with this is that the lack of maturity becomes amplified in a group setting. It is much more common for an immature teen to pull everyone else down, rather than to have more mature teens elevate their peers.  This may be why treatment centers such as Hazelden combine their age groups in such a way so as to have young twenty year old addicts mixed in with teens as young as 14.  The idea is that the more mature people that can be as old as 24 might be able to be a more positive and mature role model in treatment for those who are younger and less mature.  If a teen cannot get serious during treatment, then they have no chance at recovery at that time.

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