How Does Rehab for Adolescents Differ from Rehab for Adults?

Adolescence is the transitional period between puberty and adulthood. Most people think of adolescents as tweens and teens, but the use of the term here will imply anyone under the age of 18. Per the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), nearly 9 percent of youth age 12 to 17 are current illicit drug users. Marijuana was the primary drug of choice followed by the nonmedical use of prescription drugs particularly painkillers. Addiction is a chronic disease of the brain reward system, and it can afflict people of all ages. When it occurs with an adolescent, however, the treatment needs change.

Adolescent Addiction Treatment Statistics

The National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services (N-SSATS) tracks addiction treatment in the United States, and in a report released in 2014, the agency noted that adolescents made up six to eight percent of rehab admissions between 2003 and 2013. The report also provided information on the type of treatment received, which, using 2013 data, included the following:

  • 88.5 percent received outpatient treatment
  • 11.5 percent received residential inpatient care
  • 83.5 percent enrolled in facilities with programs specially tailored for adolescents

Outpatient treatment is part-time care in which the patient likely slept at home and possibly continued with schooling. Inpatient care, by comparison, is full-time treatment in which the patient lives in a residential rehab facility. The type of treatment used by adolescents almost identically mirrors that for adults (90 percent outpatient, 10 percent inpatient).

Different Treatment Needs for Adolescent Patients

Motivations for adult drug abuse might include issues such as work stress, chronic pain, homelessness and divorce, but adolescents often face their own set of issues, which can include the following:

  • Emotional pain from bullying, social exclusion and a lack of friends
  • Issues like poor self-image, mood swings, anger and learning disabilities
  • Sense of uncertainty about the future in terms of college and work
  • Boredom for young people who dropped out of school
  • Desire to fit in with a particular group or placate peer pressure
  • Instability at home stemming from divorce, separation or conflict
  • Physical, emotional or sexual abuse from a family member or other adult

Launched in connection with its Addiction series, HBO’s addiction website listed several more reasons why adult and adolescent treatment tends to differ including the following:

  • Adolescents often lack fully developed physical attributes.
  • A key example of such attributes is a fully developed brain.
  • Teens need to address academic issues in their treatment.
  • Family must play an integral role in the treatment and recovery.
  • Young people often have less awareness of potential consequences.
  • Teens often have different values and belief systems.
  • Substance abuse negatively affects mental and emotional growth.

Moreover, most adolescents enter treatment unwillingly. Maybe their parents or law enforcement caught them using drugs and insisted on addiction treatment. Such patients might initially resist therapies and rebel against the entire process, and the therapists need to adapt treatment plans accordingly.

Addiction Treatment Aimed at Youth

Motivational Interviewing (MI) and Contingency Management (CM) are two therapeutic models that can help involuntary patient overcome ambivalence. MI utilizes leading questions and reflective listening to guide patients toward finding personal reasons to change. Through questioning, the therapist strives to show patients the difference between where they are and where they wish to be in life. The ultimate goal is to foster personal catalysts to engage the treatments and pursue change. CM, meanwhile, involves a rapid succession of small goals, and the patient receives some form of reward for each goal accomplished. Adult rehab might also employ these therapies, but the questions and rewards differ, and the approach might be more prevalent with adolescents due to higher rates of ambivalence.

The specific therapies applied depend on the adolescent. Rehab centers evaluate the patient and customize treatment plans based on the person’s particular needs. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) published the research guide Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment in 2014, and in addition to MI and CM, the guide highlighted several potential therapies, which included the following:

  • Cognitive Behavral Therapy (CBT) – Addresses maladaptive thought patterns and beliefs and teaches patients coping strategies and how to anticipate problems
  • Adolescent Community Reinforcement Approach (A-CRA) – Seeks to replace substance-use influences with positive family, social and educational reinforcers
  • Twelve-Step Facilitation Therapy – An age-adapted version of the 12-step program designed to facilitate a transition into the traditional model
  • Brief Strategic Family Therapy (BSFT) – Engages all the family members to identify and address unhealthy interactions, behaviors and dynamics
  • Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT) – Improves family collaboration and competency with other resources to aid young addicts with high-risk behavior

Furthermore, just as the treatment plans typically differ for adolescents, the recovery support options can vary as well. Assertive Continuing Care (ACC), for example, brings therapists into the home to help adolescents with problem-solving, relapse-prevention and communication skills. In some cases, recommended aftercare services might include a recovery high school, i.e., an educational facility specially designed for students recovering from addiction.

Adolescent Rehab Help

If you have questions or need more information, call our toll-free helpline anytime 24 hours a day. Our admissions coordinators are available to provide help, make recommendations and explain options. We can even check health insurance plans for rehab benefits. Please call now.