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Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research-Based Guide

Is adolescent tobacco use treated similarly to other drug use?

Yes. People often don’t think of tobacco use as a kind of “drug abuse” that requires treatment, and motives for quitting smoking may be somewhat different than motives for quitting other drugs. But tobacco use has well-known health risks—especially when begun in the teen years—and the highly addictive nicotine in tobacco can make treatment a necessity to help an adolescent quit. Laboratory research also suggests that nicotine may increase the rewarding and addictive effects of other drugs, making it a potential contributor to other substance use disorders.

Common treatment approaches like Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy are now being used to help adolescents quit smoking (and quit using other drugs) by helping them “train their brains” so they learn to recognize and control their cravings and better deal with life stress. Other therapies like Contingency Management and Motivational Enhancement use incentives and motivation techniques to help teens reduce or stop smoking.44 (See "Behavioral Approaches" for descriptions of these treatments.)

Tobacco use often accompanies other drug use and needs to be addressed as part of other substance use disorder treatment. In a recent survey, nearly 55 percent of current adolescent cigarette smokers (ages 12 to 17) were also illicit drug users (by comparison, only about 6 percent of those who did not smoke used any illicit drugs).45 Also, cigarette smoking can be an indicator of other psychiatric disorders, which can be identified through comprehensive screening by a treatment provider.

This page was last updated January 2014

Is adolescent tobacco use treated similarly to other drug use?

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