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Mental Health Treatment Centers for Teen Addiction

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

If you’re a parent who recently discovered your teen has an addiction disorder, the first thing you want to do is find them the help they need. That means you’re probably thinking, “I need to find a drug rehab center for my teenager.” That’s a good idea, and it will put you on the right path, but there’s something else to consider. In the 21st century, we don’t always separate drug rehab from mental health treatment, because the new way of thinking about addiction means they shouldn’t be compartmentalized.  We now see addiction a mental health/behavioral disorder. In other words, it’s a medical condition, the way we now view things like depression or anxiety. Therefore, if your teen develops problems with drugs, what you might need is a mental health treatment center for teen addiction, as opposed to a teen drug rehab.

Another important fact about addiction treatment is that over the past twenty years, we’ve changed the way we talk about addiction. In fact, we’ve moved away from that word, addiction. The phrases we now use for drug addiction and alcoholism are substance use disorder (SUD) and alcohol use disorder (AUD). Alongside that information is another important development. We now say a person with a substance use disorder or a person with an alcohol use disorder, as opposed to drug addict or alcoholic.

This new approach to addiction is called the medical/disease model of addiction and the language we use is called person-first language. Person-first language prevents us from conflating the disorder with the person, and confusing a medical disease with a living, breathing, individual human. Think about it this way: we don’t call a person diagnosed with a disorder the name of the disorder. We say they’re a person with a disorder.

Evidence-Based Approach to Addiction: Integrated Treatment

We have one more thing to address before we talk about supporting a teen with a drug problem at a mental health treatment center for teen addiction: the phenomenon of co-occurring disorders. When a teen – or anyone, for that matter – receives a diagnosis for an alcohol use disorder/substance use disorder (AUD/SUD) and a mental health disorder at the same time, they receive a dual diagnosis and have what’s called a co-occurring disorder.

If you’re the parent of a teen with AUD or SUD, the reason you need to know this information is that evidence shows over half of people diagnosed with AUD/SUD also receive a diagnosis for a co-occurring disorder. The most common mental health conditions that co-occur with AUD or SUD are:

Mood disorders, including:

Anxiety disorders, including:

  • Generalized anxiety (GAD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Panic disorder

According the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) the most effective way to treat co-occurring mental health disorders and addiction disorders is by following the evidence based guidelines for integrated treatment. We’ll talk more about the details of an integrated treatment program in a moment. Until we do, we want you to know that at its most basic level, integrated treatment means addressing all the factors at play in a teenager’s life at the same time, rather than treating addiction and then depression, or depression then addiction, for instance. According to SAMHSA, the benefits of integrated treatment include:

  • Reduced use of substances
  • Discontinued use of substances
  • Reduced mental health symptoms
  • Remission from mental health disorders
  • Improved psychiatric function
  • Increased likelihood of recovery from AUD/SUD and mental health disorders
  • Improved quality of life
  • Improved function at home, school, and with peers

That’s a lot of information, we know – but the fact is, a lot of teens need help with mental health and addiction issues right now. Let’s take a look at the latest facts and figures on AUD and SUD among teenagers, to give you an idea of the scope of the problem.

Alcohol Use Disorder and Substance Use Disorder Among Teens: Facts and Figures

Each year, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service (HHS), SAMHSA conducts a nationwide survey called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). The purpose of the NSDUH is to give the medical community, the mental health treatment community, and the addiction treatment community real data upon which they can plan their treatment strategies and approaches for both the present and the future. In addition, policymakers at local, state, and national level use the NSDUH to prioritize resources, and ensure the right support goes to the right places at the right time.

We retrieved all the information below from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. We’ll start with the statistics on substance use disorder (SUD), then offer the statistics for alcohol use disorder, and end this section with a discussion of something mental health and addiction treatment professionals call the treatment gap.

Here’s the latest data on SUD among U.S. teens.

Substance Use Disorder: Illicit Drugs, 2018-2020, By Age

  • Any illicit drug, 2018:
    • Ages 12-17 total: 2.7% (675,000)
      • Ages 12-13: 0.8%
      • Ages 14-15: 2.1%
      • Ages 16-17: 5.2%
    • Any illicit drug, 2019:
      • 12-17 total: 3.6% (900,000)
        • 12-13: 0.8%
        • 14-15: 3.9%
        • 16-17: 6.1%
      • Any illicit drug, 2020:
        • 12-17 total: 4.9% (1,125,000)
          • 12-13: 0.9%
          • 14-15: 5.1%
          • 16-17: 8.8%

Now let’s look at the data on AUD among U.S. teens.

Alcohol Use Disorder: 2018-2020, By Age

  • AUD, 2018:
    • Ages 12-17 total: 2.1%
      • 12-13: 0.1%
      • 14-15: 1.6%
      • 16-17: 3.1%
    • AUD, 2019:
      • 12-17 total: 1.7%
        • 12-13: 0.2%
        • 14-15: 1.4%
        • 16-17: 3.4%
      • AUD, 2020:
        • 12-17 total: 2.8%
          • 12-13: 0.6%
          • 14-15: 3.2%
          • 16-17: 4.9%

Those are the latest facts and figures that give us an accurate picture of the situation on the ground now, as we speak. Next, as promised we’ll talk about the treatment gap. That’s the difference between the number of people who need treatment for a specific disorder and the number of people who receive treatment for that specific disorder.

The AUD and SUD Treatment Gap Among Teens

In this article, the disorders we’re talking about are alcohol use disorder (AUD) and substance use disorder (SUD). To be frank, the treatment gap is one of the reasons we write and publish articles like this one. There are far too many teenagers in the U.S. who need treatment for AUD or SUD, but do not get the treatment they need. Mental health treatment centers for teen addiction are perfectly suited to help close the treatment gap. The best mental health treatment centers for teens offer integrated treatment, which, as we mention above, is the new gold-standard for addiction treatment.

To understand the treatment gap, we’ll start by looking at the statistics for treatment for substance use disorder and alcohol use disorder for the same years and age groups as the statistics we’ve already shared.

Substance Use Disorder: Received Treatment, 2018-2020, By Age

  • SUD treatment, 2018:
    • Ages 12-17, total: 0.5%
      • 12-13: 0.1%
      • 14-15: 0.5%
      • 16-17: 1.0%
    • SUD treatment, 2019:
      • 12-17, total: 0.5%
        • 12-13: 0.1%
        • 14-15: 0.4%
        • 16-17: 0.9%
      • SUD treatment, 2020:
        • 12-17, total: 0.4%
          • 12-13: 0.1%
          • 14-15: 0.3%
          • 16-17: 0.9%

Next, we’ll look at the statistics for treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Alcohol Use Disorder: Received Treatment, 2018-2020, By Age

  • AUD treatment, 2018:
    • Ages 12-17 total: 0.3%
      • 12-13: n/a
      • 14-15: 0.2%
      • 16-17: 0.6%
    • AUD treatment, 2019:
      • 12-17 total: 0.3%
        • 12-13: 0.1%
        • 14-15: 0.2%
        • 16-17: 0.5%
      • AUD treatment, 2020:
        • 12-17 total: 0.4%
          • 12-13: 0.1%
          • 14-15: 0.2%
          • 16-17: 0.8%

Now it’s time look at the statistics that are the most concerning: the statistics on the treatment gap.

SUD Treatment Gap

  • SUD treatment, 2018:
    • 12-17, total: 3,375 out of 675,000 received SUD treatment
  • SUD treatment, 2019:
    • 12-17, total: 4,500 out of 900,000 received SUD treatment
  • SUD treatment, 2020:
    • 12-17, total: 4,500 out of 1,125,000 received SUD treatment

AUD Treatment Gap

  • AUD treatment, 2018:
    • 12-17, total: 1,575 out of 525,000 received AUD treatment
  • AUD treatment, 2019:
    • 12-17, total: 1,275 out of 425,000 received AUD treatment
  • AUD treatment, 2020:
    • 12-17, total: 2,800 out of 700,000 received AUD treatment

We’ll summarize this information now:

In 2018, 671,635 teens did not get the SUD treatment they needed, and 523,425 teens did not get the AUD treatment they needed. In 2019, 895,500 teens did not get the SUD treatment they needed, and 423,725 teens did not get the AUD treatment they needed. Finally, In 2020, 1,120,500 teens did not get the SUD treatment they needed, and 672,000 teens did not get the AUD treatment they needed.

The bottom line is that the treatment gap is too large.

It’s far too large, when you consider the fact evidence-based treatment for AUD, SUD, and the disorders that commonly co-occur alongside them are readily available at most mental health treatment centers for teen addiction around the country.

What is Integrated Treatment?

If you think your teen needs treatment for addiction, and/or treatment for addiction and a co-occurring disorder, the first step – after reading an article like this one – is to arrange for a full biopsychosocial evaluation administered by a licensed and qualified mental health professional who specializes in teen diagnosis. When a biopsychosocial evaluation indicates the presence of an addiction disorder and/or a co-occurring disorder, the assessing clinician will most likely refer you to a mental health treatment center.

Your task, as a parent, is to find a mental health treatment center that uses the integrated treatment model. When your teen participates in an integrated treatment program, they can learn a set of tools and techniques that allow them to manage their alcohol or substance use disorder. If they also receive a diagnosis for a co-occurring disorder, they’ll learn a corresponding set of tools and techniques that can help them manage that disorder, as well.

Treatment at a high-quality mental health treatment center for teen addiction and co-occurring disorders should include:

Individual Therapy

  • Clinicians work with teens to uncover the cause or origin of their AUD or SUD
  • Clinicians work with teens to learn about their co-occurring disorder
  • Therapists teach teens how addiction and mental health disorders interact

Group Therapy

  • Alongside recovery peers, teens learn the basic about addiction and mental health recovery
  • Alongside recovery peers, teens learn the essentials of:
    • Relapse prevention: how to identify patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior that can lead to relapse. This is also called trigger management.
    • Techniques to develop productive relationships:
    • How to set healthy boundaries
    • How to identify peers that disrupt the recovery process
    • Techniques to improve social skills/getting along with others:
    • Appropriate ways to share information about their addiction or mental health disorder
    • How and why it’s best to avoid social events where peers drink and/or use drugs
    • Practical strategies for building a peer network that supports recovery

Family Therapy

  • Teens, parents, and siblings learn:
    • How family dynamics affect addiction and mental health
    • How to improve their communication skills
    • They can work together to create a recovery-friendly home environment

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

  • Clinicians teach teens the skills they need to manage stress, prevent relapse, and manage emotions

Experiential Activities

  • Treatment center counselors/therapists:
    • Get teens outside and help them reconnect to things that support a healthy lifestyle, like exercise and time spent in nature
    • Help teens explore their emotions through expressive therapies like music, visual art, or drama
    • Help teens learn (or relearn) how to have fun without alcohol or drugs

Community Support

  • Treatment center staff/clinicians/counselors host or chaperone teens at local community support meeting such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and Alateen

What integrated treatment helps teens and families do – which a typical single-focus drug rehab often does not – is rebuild their lives without alcohol and drugs. By lives, we mean their whole lives. That’s why this approach to treatment is often called holistic. An integrated, holistic approach to treatment means treating any co-occurring disorders at the same time as treating the misuse of alcohol or substances. That way, upon discharge from their program, they have the skills they need to manage their addiction and their mental health disorder, which increase their chance of achieving sustainable, lifelong recovery – and that’s the entire goal of treatment.

Finding Help: Resources

If you’re seeking treatment for your teen, please navigate to our page How to Find the Best Treatment Programs for Teens and download our helpful handbook, A Parent’s Guide to Mental Health Treatment for Teens.

In addition, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) is an excellent resource for locating licensed and qualified psychiatrists, therapists, and counselors in your area. Both the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness also provide and high-quality online resources, ready and waiting for you right now.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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