Switching it Up: How Traditional Treatment may not be hitting Home with Younger Addicts

In today’s recovery world, traditional substance abuse treatment doesn’t always resonate fully with young addicts, as illicit drug use remains high among teenagers. Without a doubt, many of the proven treatment protocols have yielded positive results for scores of addicts across the board; however, the treatment process in some cases must be tweaked and tailored for the individual addict who may need this in order to make appropriate recovery progress..


Recover.org says “Unfortunately, many people who find themselves in the throes of an addiction are firmly in denial about the depth and breadth of the problem.”

Teenagers are no exception

One important variable to look at where teenagers are concerned is how  young people best absorb the treatment plan presented to them  Typically those who venture down the path of substance abuse typically have a longer and harder road ahead. Providing help for those most at risk means examining what works best, and what doesn’t. Traditional programs like the 12-step model of Alcoholics Anonymous and Sober Living Houses have proven to be effective throughout the years, and they will continue to be valuable recovery tools for those who are serious about their recovery.  So what doesn’t work?   It’s the one-size fits all recovery approach that doesn’t implement the little nuances needed to make the recovery approach work for the young addicts seeking help.

Change the language

From research, recovery centers have found that the industry has been in a holding pattern for many decades sticking with its tradition to use standard verbiage that many individuals in recovery know all too well.  The vocabulary used in the recovery industry today at times borders on cliché.  The lingo in the industry can be in reference to anything from guest speaking sessions to individual therapy times to creative activities. But data gathered based on demographics indicate that a trend looms, as  the younger recovery generation seems to respond more positively to non-traditional verbiage; a sign treatment centers must pay attention to as they work with this demographic.

For example, treatment centers could alter the language used to promote speaker events like using the term “group session” instead of “lectures.” We have found that the younger recovering addicts respond better when invited to a “group session.” A simple fix like this can make a world of difference with these young individuals who are already in an environment of structure and rules.  Making subtle tweaks to position activities as all inclusive serves as a more appealing incentive for teenagers to attend and participate in these events.

Build the rapport

Having a relational component in an individual’s treatment plan is important for healing. As a result, it’s vital for traditional treatment models to highlight the recovery value of the interpersonal component of their program and how it’s a key ingredient in achieving true recovery. With young people in particular, a sense of community and support better position them to get through a rough day and acquire the courage and hope needed to keep moving forward. As building relationships is a key component in the treatment journey, it’s important for treatment providers to think outside the therapy room. Trust and building rapport through other means like group sporting activities or impromptu and casual conversation can go a long way in helping addicts in their recovery. Encourage residents to engage one another, and to feel comfortable sharing with their staff and peers in a safe environment The ground covered by displaying a caring and compassionate attitude goes a long way in helping to spur the addict’s recovery growth.

Make it interactive

Another common mode of operation among treatment centers is to provide help in a standard classroom setting.  While this approach is typically beneficial to those in recovery, it may not be the best approach to treating young people who appear to thrive more in an environment that allows them to actively participate. Remember that most juveniles through those in their mid-20s grew up in an environment that fosters stimulation – whether through television, radio, or myriad other pieces of technology that draw their attention. Getting through to them in a bland and less dynamic is often difficult

Instead of setting up seats in the typical classroom setting, try placing them in a circle so residents can face one another. Another tip includes setting up group activities that allow the young recovering addict to participate – instead of choosing someone to speak at the group from the front of the room for a set period of time. Whether it’s an art project that symbolizes their recovery journey, or a writing assignment on setting long-term goals, you’ll gain more from these clients than you would in a typical lecture setting.

In treatment, the residents’ health and safety is the first and foremost goal. Once this is accounted for, it’s crucial to ensure that your treatment methods are tailored to each individual in your care.  If you are unable to do this… then at least work to switch things up. Keep what’s always worked, and weave in some fresh ideas to reach the younger demographic exactly where they need to be reached.

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