What kind of screening will the doctor do?
The doctor will ask your child a series of questions about use of alcohol and drugs, and associated risk behaviors (such as driving under the influence or riding with other drivers who have been using drugs or alcohol). The doctor might also give a urine and/or blood test to identify drugs that are being used. This assessment will help determine the extent of a teen's drug use (if any) and whether a referral to a treatment program is necessary.
How do I find the right treatment center?
Your teen’s doctor might recommend a center, but you should be sure to ask questions before choosing one. Centers should have experience with teens, and should offer medication for opioids and alcohol use disorders (See Is There Medication that Can Help? below.) You can also look for a treatment center online at https://findtreatment.gov/ by simply entering your zip code. If you have difficulty navigating the site, or prefer to speak with someone on the phone, you can call the helpline and get some advice on how to proceed: 1-800-662-HELP (4357). This service is supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and has trained call center personnel. This treatment finder allows you to search geographically and will also give you information about the treatment center, if they specialize in teens, and offer needed medication.
What do I look for in a treatment center for this age group?
Treatment approaches must be tailored to address each patient's unique substance use patterns and related medical, psychiatric, and social problems. Some treatment centers offer outpatient treatment programs, which would allow your teen to stay in school, at least part-time. However, some adolescents do better in inpatient (residential) treatment. An addiction specialist can advise you about your best options.
NIDA has put 30 years of research into finding general principles of drug addiction that are most effective. We have just created an online publication outlining the best treatment principles for this age group. You might want to have these materials handy when you talk to treatment centers to help you ask the right questions.
Who will provide treatment to my child?
Different kinds of addiction specialists will work together in your teen’s care, including doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers, and others.
Is there medication that can help?
Medications are currently available to treat addictions to alcohol, nicotine, and opioids (heroin and prescription pain relievers), and the treatment team might recommend one of those medicines. There are also medicines to treat mental health conditions (such as depression) that might be contributing to the addiction. In addition, medication is sometimes prescribed to help with the symptoms associated with drug withdrawal. When medication is available, it can be combined with behavioral therapy to ensure success for most patients. Some treatment centers follow the philosophy that they should not treat a drug addiction with other drugs, but research shows that with opioid use disorders in particular, using medication is generally the most effective approach.
Read more about what treatments are available.
What kind of counseling is best for a teen or young adult?
You child's treatment provider will probably recommend counseling. Behavioral treatment (also known as "talk therapy") can help patients engage in the treatment process, change their attitudes and behaviors related to substance use, and increase healthy life skills. These treatments can also enhance the effectiveness of medications and help people stay in treatment longer.
Treatment for substance use and addiction can be delivered in many different settings using a variety of behavioral approaches. With adults, both individual therapy and group counseling settings with peers are used. However, studies suggest group therapy can be risky with a younger age group, as some participants in a group may have negative influence over the others, or even steer the conversation toward stories about having fun with drugs. Some research suggests that the most effective treatments for teens are those that involve one or more family members present. You can read more about the different kinds of behavioral treatment options.