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Top Nine Components of an Adolescent Addiction Treatment Program

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
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In September of 2004, the Journal of the Americen Medical Association: Pediatrics published a far-ranging study on the treatment of adolescents with alcohol and/or substance use disorders. Twenty-two subject matter experts, including ten researchers, nine clinicians, and three senior policy-makers identified nine components common to the most highly regarded treatment programs available:

1. Assessment and Treatment Matching

Treatment centers should conduct comprehensive assessments that create a full biopsychosocial picture of the teenager’s life. Screening instruments must be evidence-based, time-tested, and accepted by the mental health community. Further, they should be capable of identifying co-occurring disorders, family influences, social factors, and any other salient issues in the teenager’s life. The center must then form a treatment plan that addresses all the issues revealed during the assessment process. Treating the the substance use disorder alone is not sufficient.

2. Comprehensive, Integrated Treatment

The treatment plan, based on the comprehensive assessments, must provide evidence-based therapies. The therapies employed must also address all the factors identified in the initial evaluation.

3. Family Involvement

Treatment plans must include the participation of parents, caregivers, and other relevant family members. Research shows family engagement increases the likelihood of better treatment outcomes.

4. Age-Appropriate Program

Treatment must include therapies, activities, and support tailored to meet the needs of teenagers. Adolescents and adults have different treatment requirements and capabilities. Therefore, what works for adults will not automatically work for teenagers. Treatment centers must recognize and respond to this fact.

5. Engagement and Retention:

Treatment programs must work to establish trust, cooperation, and total buy-in from their teenage clients. This means altering therapy styles, activities, hours, and the therapeutic environment. Clinicians should meet adolescents where they are and in a way that’s likely to resonate with them. This increases time in treatment. Increased time in treatment, in turn, increases the likelihood of positive outcomes.

6. Qualified Staff:

Treatment center staff must be trained in adolescent-specific therapy. Staff must be trained in adolescent development and adolescent substance abuse treatment. In addition, they must have experience in treating co-occurring mental disorders in teenagers, not only adults.

7. Cultural and Gender Sensitivity:

Treatment programs must understand and serve the divergent needs of their entire population. Staff must be aware of and trained in therapeutic requirements specific to boys, girls, LGBTQ individuals, and cultural/ethnic minorities.

8. Full Continuum of Care:

Treatment programs must include robust and proactive aftercare plans and sustainable sobriety strategies. Successful aftercare plans include strategies for family engagement, ongoing therapy, and positive peer involvement. Furthermore, programs must include ongoing community-based supports such as 12-Step programs or other similar resources.

9. Treatment Outcomes:

Treatment centers must commit to an ongoing, rigorous, evidence-based evaluation of therapeutic methods and outcomes. This allows them to allocate resources responsibly and improve quality of care.

Be sure to read: How to Choose a Teen Rehab Center

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