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Substance Abuse and Dependency in Teenagers

by Dr. Randi Fredricks, Ph.D., Director of San Jose Therapy and Counseling

Substance Abuse and other addiction problems remain an issue of utmost concern for all parents. Much like adults, children and teens use substances as a way to manage symptoms and/or escape emotional pain.

Substance use and addiction issues appear so prevalently as part of other clinical disorders that they have been recently termed Co-Occurring Disorders. In addition to the obvious health and safety risks, substance use and addiction problems can affect every level of a child's life and future, whether at home, educationally/vocationally, or in the community.

Through my extensive experience and training in this aspect of clinical work, I know this to be a most challenging problem area, but one that can be successfully treated. It is important that young clients have a safe place to learn how to tolerate and explore their painful feelings; to understand how substances deceptively appeared to help; and, perhaps most importantly, to develop and practice healthy coping skills.

The provision of ongoing familial, social, therapeutic, and medical support throughout this process is a key element in successful, lasting Recovery. Clients identified as either at-risk for substance use, or those working on Recovery, respond well to a clinically-coordinated mixture of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), family interventions, group therapy, and adjunctive community-based supports such as 12-Step work. In this context, CBT focuses on finding new ways of coping with family and social pressures; on developing new and healthy peer groups; and on building relapse-prevention strategies.

Family therapy can play a vital role in finding expression for deep, emotional sources of the addictive process, as well as providing the basis for rebuilding a strong, loving home foundation. Peer group and 12-Step meetings add a social dimension to the healing process by reducing shame, sharing practical wisdom, and reinforcing success. All play a crucial role in substance abuse treatment.

A clinically-coordinated treatment approach focuses on assessment of current substance use and evaluation of appropriate course of treatment. The level of overall psychological functioning, degree of risk and harm (based on drug of choice/frequency of use/available supports and resources) are factors that determine appropriate treatment milieu and interventions. Then, treatment includes providing structure and containment so that chaotic, destructive functioning is curtailed, setting attainable and realistic goals, and therapy to help with sustained abstinence. Therapy also works on maintaining an ongoing treatment focus on sobriety, hopefulness, and creating a thriving future.

Dr. Randi Fredricks, Ph.D., is an author, researcher, and Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (#47803) in San Jose, California. She works with teenagers and adults with anxiety, depression, addiction, and eating disorders. To learn more about Dr. Fredricks' work, visit

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.
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