Recovery from any addiction is a difficult process. It involves an individual’s willingness to take responsibility for his or her actions, a concrete decision to make significant lifestyle changes, and the courage to repair damaged relationships. The level of emotional maturity involved in taking these steps is usually somewhat foreign to an addict. What about a person who is an addict and, developmentally speaking, a child? How does this person muster the emotional maturity needed to begin the recovery process?
For decades the adolescent substance abuse problem has gotten progressively worse. There have been prevention programs which have had some success, but adolescents continue to abuse drugs and alcohol at an alarming rate. Because of this, it is important for anyone who works with adolescents to understand this unique population.
- The conscious motivation for most adolescents to abuse drugs and alcohol is different than that of an adult. The adolescent abuser is seeking fun and peer acceptance,whereas the adult is seeking pain relief.
- In most cases adolescents have yet to face the same level of physical or emotional consequences most adult addicts have faced
- The adult addict is responsible for all aspects of his or her life, the adolescent isn’t
These are just a few of the differences between adults and adolescents with substance abuse issues. Some of the challenges in treatment include:
- Creating an environment in which the adolescent has fun and gains peer acceptance. Developmentally these are needs which must be addressed
- Helping an emotionally immature child take enough internal responsibility for his or her actions to be motivated to change
- Showing an adolescent how to maintain healthy balance in his or her emotional life, in other words, limiting the emotional extremes
The biggest mistake clinicians make in treating adolescent substance abuse is assuming the adolescent is capable of dealing with life like an adult. In most cases, an adolescent must be able to see recovery as an attractive lifestyle. An adolescent substance abuser already has a general lack of trust with adults or any other “authority” figures. It is critical to maintain patience in order to gain the trust of an adolescent. Once trust is established, it is possible to reach an adolescent at their level.