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Principles of Effective Teen Addiction Treatment

Teen Addiction Treatment | PardigmMalibu.com

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has recently published a guide based on research that provides the 13 principles of effective teen addiction treatment for drug abuse.


Addiction can be effectively treated with behavioral based therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. However, treatment varies for each person, depending on the type of drug used, the length of addiction, the presence of psychological or physical illnesses, unresolved emotional concerns, and other circumstances. For this reason NIDA’s publication is a significant one, outlining the factors that can facilitate treatment regardless of the length and strength of the teen addiction.


  1. Drugs affect the brain’s structure and function. This can lead to changes in the brain that last even after drug use ends. This might explain why some users are prone to relapse even long after an addiction has come to an end.
  2. Treatment will not be the same for everyone. Because addiction is different for different teens, treatment must also be different. Treatment must match the adolescent’s particular problems. For instance, the treatment setting, interventions, and the mental health services must adequately address a teen’s needs to heal.
  3. Treatment needs to be readily available. Often, teens (and anyone with addiction) have a high amount of ambivalence. They want to change but their physical craving for the drug keeps the addiction cycle going. Taking advantage of moments when a teen is willing to enter treatment is critical. If services are not available so readily, the opportunity to treat might be lost.
  4. Treatment that is effective will address not just the addiction alone. For treatment to be effective, it must address the medical, psychological, social, vocational, and legal issues of an adolescent. Treatment must be holistic in nature.
  5. Staying in treatment for as long as it takes is essential. The length of treatment, however, varies depending on the needs of the adolescent. Research indicates that addictions that were strong and ongoing require at least 3 months in treatment in order to significantly reduce or stop the addiction. Also, recovery will frequently require several episodes of various levels of treatment. Addiction is seen as a chronic illness requiring ongoing treatment and significant life change.
  6. Behavioral therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, are the most common type of drug abuse treatment. These types of therapy explore a person’s behavior, their choices, their ambivalence to make change in their life, and the motivation to sustain change. This kind of therapy also helps a teen develop new coping mechanisms and life skills to better manage their life.
  7. Medication is an important element of treatment. In addition to therapy, teens can take medication that will help with the burning need to continue to use the drug of their choice. These medications can help stabilize their lives and reduce the need to use.
  8. As treatment continues, a teen’s needs and treatment plan must be continually assessed. There might be a variety of needs that may not need to be addressed in the beginning of treatment, but as a teen continues to detoxify physically and emotionally, his or her needs may change. Treatment should remain flexible in order to meet a teen’s changing needs.
  9. It’s common for teens with addiction to also have a psychological illness. For this reason, they should be assessed for co-occurring disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.
  10. Detoxification with the use of medication alone is not adequate to treat the full scope of addiction. Medication is only the first stage of addiction, which only manages the acute physical symptoms of withdrawal. For this reason, teens need to expect and be encouraged to continue to participate in treatment long after detoxification has taken place.
  11. Treatment does not need to be voluntary to be effective. Even for those teens who are required to seek treatment by law and who don’t seek treatment by choice, research indicates that treatment for addiction in these cases are also effective.
  12. Because relapse can occur even during treatment, teens must be closely monitored. In fact, knowing that treatment is being monitored can be a powerful way to prevent teens from submitting to the urges of their withdrawal process.
  13. Treatment programs need to test adolescents for the presence of infectious diseases. Often, drug addiction rehab will include programs that address some of the drug related problems that put teens at risk for infectious diseases. However, for a teen’s safety it needs to be an essential in treatment programs.


The above are principles of teen addiction treatment. Based upon research, these 13 points indicate what is necessary for effective treatment and what will lead to healing the addiction in the lives of adolescents.





(December 2012). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved on May 14, 2014 from: http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment





By Robert Hunt
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