Outpatient Treatment for Teens


outpatient treatment for teensEven the oldest person in the world was a young person once, full of hopes and dreams about the future. Adults who cast their thoughts back to high school might remember a time full of sports, friends and a lack of responsibility. It all sounds so carefree and wonderful, but it can also be dangerous. As the adolescent mind grows, portions of the brain that control impulsivity grow faster than portions of the brain that control good judgment. A brain like this makes snap decisions, and sometimes, those decisions result in terrible consequences. Teens may get in car crashes, engage in risky sex or assault people they dislike. They might also take drugs, and develop serious addictions as a result.

Protecting a child is a parent’s top priority, and when the child’s life includes drugs, parents might be left with the responsibility to choose a treatment program and ensure that the child takes the work seriously.

Outpatient programs for teens allow parents to take an active role in the child’s march to wellness, as programs like this rely on parents to provide a safe, structured and sober environment when the child isn’t under the direct supervision of a therapist.

Identifying the Problem+

According to the Office of Applied Studies, about 4,365 students use an illicit drug for the first time, each and every day. Some of these students use drugs just once, and they never progress to drug abuse. An adolescent mind under revision is particularly susceptible to the effects of drugs, however, and some teens find that a little dabbling with drugs quickly turns into compulsive drug use. Teens like this might, unfortunately, hide their addictions for years before they receive treatment that can help them. According to the Treatment Episode Data Set, of those teens who entered treatment programs for heroin abuse, the majority had used the drug for about 18 months before they entered treatment programs. Research like this seems to suggest that teens are adept at covering up their addictions, and as a result, they may have deep habits that are hard to break when they enter a treatment program and begin to work on a solution.

The Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality reports that about half of all teens who enter treatment programs for addiction do so because they’ve been ordered into these programs by the criminal justice system. These teens may have a built-in reason to get better, as they may want to stay out of jail in the future. Teens who don’t have law enforcement agents standing behind them may not have the same spur to succeed, but they may worry about disappointing family and friends due to addiction, and this could be the motivation they’ll need to improve. An outpatient program allows teens to keep those ties strong, and it could be a valuable way to help with an addiction as a result.

Choosing Outpatient Care

Traditionally, outpatient care was reserved for teens who had:

  • Short histories of drug abuse
  • Low levels of mental distress
  • No criminal histories
  • Strong social skills

outpatient teen treatmentTeens like this were considered ideal patients, and it was assumed that they would succeed in almost any program they participated in. Placing them in an outpatient program seemed like a safe bet, as they just had mild issues to overcome. Now, research suggests that even teens with developed addiction histories and significant mental issues can also do well in an outpatient program.

Teens in an outpatient program are asked to meet with counselors, participate in group therapy, attend support group meetings and complete homework assignments, all in the name of helping the teen to recognize the addiction and learn to move past the problems caused by the addiction. The sessions are often held in the evenings and on weekends, so the teen can continue to go to school, but the work is difficult, and it can work. For example, a study in the Journal of Adolescent Research found that family-oriented, outpatient rehab programs for addicted teens can significantly reduce drug use in about half of the students who participate. The others might need more sophisticated kinds of care, but the lessons they learn in these programs could put them on the road to success later in life.

The Role of the Family

family outpatientAs much as teens might not want to admit it, they rely on their families for love, support and acceptance. When these teens are in an outpatient program for addiction, they might also need their families to provide them with important lessons regarding both addiction and healthy living. For example, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that teens with addictions often have few basic living skills. They’ve structured their days around the use and abuse of drugs, and they’re not certain how to set goals, make plans and accomplish important tasks. Teens will need to master these skills in order to succeed as adults, and parents can help by insisting that their teens create and stick to a schedule each and every day. Going to school, attending therapy sessions, performing homework and going to bed at a reasonable hour might not sound entertaining, but these tasks could give the day structure, and they could help the teen to learn how to manage time effectively.

Parents and siblings might also be asked to play an active role in the teen’s recovery by participating in family therapy sessions. Here, the group can:

  • Learn more about the nature of addiction
  • Develop robust communication skills
  • Process pain and disappointment caused by addiction
  • Build up trust levels

Family therapy sessions like this allow the whole family unit to work together toward a common goal, and the connections formed in this therapy might help the group to work together throughout the rest of life. While poor connections may not cause addictions to form, strong connections might make the need to use drugs fade, and the whole family might heal as a result.

medication managementMedication Management

Some addictions cause persistent chemical changes that can lead to physical or mental distress during withdrawal and rehab. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that medications can be used to prevent relapse by diminishing cravings, and medications can be important allies in the healing process for opioid, tobacco, alcohol, cannabis and stimulant addictions. However, some drugs haven’t been approved for use in young people, and some parents dislike the idea of treating an addicted child with medications. As a result, medications aren’t a mandatory requirement for adolescent outpatient programs, but they could be helpful for some teens.

Mental illnesses like depression and anxiety can sometimes lie beneath adolescent substance abuse, and issues like this can sometimes be effectively handled with appropriate medication therapy. Again, not all children need this medication, but those who do will need to keep their appointments with their providers and take their medications exactly as they are prescribed. Skipping doses or combining doses can reduce effectiveness, so it’s important for teens to be precise in the ways in which they take the medications they’ve been prescribed.

Getting Help

As an article in the journal Current Psychiatry Reports points out, the majority of teens who have addictions get care on an outpatient basis. As a result, it’s not difficult for parents to find a program that’s close to home and right for the needs of that child at that time. If you’re ready to start your own search for help like this, please call us. We’re happy to give you more details and help you find the right kind of program to meet the needs of your child.

Further Reading About Outpatient Treatment for Teens