A-Z Teen Health Glossary

Teen Substance Abuse Treatment

Teen substance abuse, or substance dependence, is a disorder characterized by the recreational or harmful overuse of certain psychoactive substances, such as alcohol, amphetamine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, heroin, cocaine, and so on. Drug use in general is not considered a disorder, but rather a risk factor for one. For adolescents, common symptoms of drug overuse or substance abuse include problems functioning at home and in school, and irrational behavior. Sometimes the abused substance is an illegal drug, including alcohol for teens, but legal substances can also be abused – teens can misuse their prescription medication, or illegally take legal medication from a friend.

What Does Teen Substance Abuse Look Like?

  • Sudden apathy and lack of effort toward responsibilities and school work
  • Change in attitude toward social settings and relationships
  • Sudden flakiness and tardiness
  • Sudden change in peer groups

Symptoms of Teen Substance Abuse

Irritability and mood swings

Skirting responsibility

Drug paraphernalia

Frequent lying

Neglected appearance/bad hygiene

Irregular sleeping cycles

Rapid weight gain/weight loss

Low appetite

Causes of Teen Substance Abuse

Substance abuse in teens can occur for several reasons. Each individual case has unique circumstances that explain why a teen ended up using drugs, but the biggest risk factor is the availability of drugs. Teens are particularly susceptible to drug use no matter how stressful or relaxed their lives are, because of an inherent curiosity and susceptibility to peer pressure. Their brains are also typically more likely to struggle with addiction, because they’re still developing – hence, they adapt and accept the addiction much faster. Aside from these age-specific factors, other risk factors to consider include:

  • Stress at home or at school.
  • Mental health issues and trauma (drugs as self-medication).
  • Poverty or stressful childhood conditions.
  • Social isolation/ostracizing.
  • Family history of addiction.
Teen Substance Abuse Treatment | Paradigm Malibu


of teens have misused drugs in their lifetime


of teens get drugs from friends and family


parents believe there is little they can do to help their teen

How Can I Help My Teen with Substance Abuse?

Learn more about their addiction – every addiction is different, and parents have to know the particular risks of the substances their teens are using. Knowing what your teen is addicted to can help you better catch the warning signs and know when to call for medical help in case of a relapse.

Help them stay clean – everyone who struggles with substance abuse needs a shoulder to lean on from time to time. Recovery is something your teen will have to go through themselves, but they will need help. Emotional support is a big deal, and by being there for your teen, you can help them avoid a relapse.

Work with their therapist – your teen’s therapist will help you understand why they might be struggling with addiction, and what you can do to help them stay clean. It’s important to talk to your teen, as well, as much as they’re comfortable with the topic.

Help them stick to treatment – part of the recovery journey is keeping a routine going after the treatment is over. Going to meetings or group therapy, checking in with a therapist, regularly exercising, engaging in hobbies, going back to school, etc. Your teen will need help from time to time to stick to their responsibilities and not swerve away from their path.

What Types of Teen Substance Abuse Treatment Are Available?

Once your teen agrees that they have a problem, there are several resources available to help them overcome their addiction and regain control over their lives.

Talk Therapy

Sobriety is a necessary commitment for someone undergoing teen substance abuse treatment. This can be an incredibly daunting, challenging idea. But it doesn’t have to be done alone. In fact, it’s highly recommended that teens seek help from other people. A therapist can offer a person physical and mental support as a patient undergoes the withdrawal process. Afterwards, psychotherapy is used to help teens figure out where to go from here. Substances are often used to cope with some sort of challenge or pain, even if it didn’t start that way. Cutting that off without an alternative is difficult, which is why therapy focuses on helping teens build a toolset to tackle life’s challenges in a healthy way. Once people begin to feel safe and supported in looking at those underlying emotional issues, they can feel a renewed sense of hope that change, and improvement is possible.

Group Therapy

Group therapy is one of the most powerful types of therapy for people struggling with substance abuse. Because it’s often difficult for people to identify the effects of their own substance abuse, talking with others can provide an honest mirror that reflects the severity of their own situation. Beyond this, a group can also create a sense of accountability and encouragement among people who are speaking honestly about what they’re going through and what efforts they’re making to change.

Lastly, group therapy provides a safe environment where people feel understood and acknowledged, regardless of the struggles they face. This acceptance and non-judgment can be a powerful motivating force on the road to recovery.


In certain cases, medication is a part of the treatment process for substance abuse problems, especially in the case of an addiction with severe withdrawal symptoms, or in the case of substance abuse alongside comorbid conditions, like major depression or bipolar disorder. Antidepressants, for example, can help alleviate some of the emotional discomfort associated early recovery. Opioid withdrawal symptoms can be reduced with drugs like lofexidine, and alcohol withdrawal can be medicated with anti-anxiety drugs like Diazepam, vitamins and IV fluids to promote hydration and eliminate drug-fueled deficiencies, and sedatives.

Teen Substance Abuse Treatment at Paradigm Malibu

Teen substance abuse treatment starts with seeking help and ends on the note that there’s a whole life full of wonders and possibilities still ahead for a teen. It’s difficult for many people struggling with addiction to think positively, or to even hope of a time when they’ll finally be in control again. But with the right treatment, that day will come sooner than most expect it. And, by seeking help, they’ve already begun their journey.

A Place for Treatment

Paradigm Malibu treats substance abuse by giving teens a place for treatment, away from home. This matters, because the early days of recovery are by far the hardest, and the most likely to make teens quit it all.

By providing a specialized drug-free environment, treatment can segue from withdrawal into therapy, and slowly transition into life back at home, invigorated with a hope for the future. At Paradigm Malibu, our therapists are experienced in utilizing talk therapy to help teens find a better way to live their lives after addiction.

Relearning Living

Arguably the most difficult part after the initial recovery period is getting used to the commitment of sobriety. Staying clean for the rest of your life is a daunting prospect, especially as a teen. So, we make it less daunting by not making it a challenge, but just a way of life. Sobriety is not just the absence of drugs in the system – it’s clarity and freedom. The ability to live your life without being chained to an addiction. It’s like having countless paths before you, rather than just one. It’s always the preferred way to live, and by learning how to live it to the fullest, teens can completely avoid their addiction in the future.

Absolutely amazing. We had a life-changing experience here and I felt compelled to shout it from the roof tops! This is a top-notch organization with extremely talented therapists, clean and safe facilities and a staff that genuinely cares about its patients. Our teenaged son was quite honestly a lost cause - or so we thought. He had a dual-diagnosis and was suffering from depression, bi polar disorder and was self medicating with marijuana and pain pills. Now, as a direct result of the people at Paradigm, he is doing so very well. He is clean and sober and is an active participant in his life! This experience was worth every single penny we spent and we couldn't be more pleased with the results. Thank you.
- Brian T.

Frequently Asked Questions About Teen Substance Abuse

What if I’ve tried to stop using before and I can’t?

Unfortunately, one of the difficult things about treating substance abuse is people often don’t succeed on their first attempt. It’s very common for it to take more than one try for a person to get sober, and even then, the cravings don’t always go away. That may sound like bad news, but we think of it as good news, because it means that it’s not all over if you mess up once. You have to keep trying. And we’ll help you, supporting you every step of the way, on the good days and the bad.

What if I just use a substance to deal with stress?

It’s true that it can be a thin line that divides substance use from substance abuse, but it’s important to be honest about when, how, and how often you’re using the substance. It’s common for people to not realize they have a problem until it’s grown into a full-blown addiction, and some cling onto their denial to avoid the label of addiction. It’s not healthy to use substances to unwind, and that goes double for teens because of how teenage brains are more susceptible to substance abuse.

Your substance use may have started as a casual, recreational habit but the nature of addictive substances is that use can quickly become addiction. Even if you don’t think you’re abusing the substance, if you’re relying on it, then you no longer have control and you should strongly consider professional help.

Ready to take the next step?

Call now for a free assessment with a counselor or to start the admissions process.
We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All calls are confidential.
Call Now