Over the course of hundreds of years, anthropologists have identified a unique creature roaming planet Earth. There, observers noted over centuries of observation that these creatures can at times behave irrationally and impulsively, suggesting a limited capacity for reason and judgment. ‑ the name assigned to these unique creatures? ‑ the Human Teenager.
Teenagers are complex. Their brains are not yet fully developed, they are emotionally immature and often make poor decisions. They can behave impulsively, make irrational decisions and participate in risky behavior. Those with substance abuse problems are more complex, and those with an additional co-occurring disorder are even further complex.
The teen years are a development stage in which they strive independence but feel stuck depending upon their parents and other authority figures. It’s a Catch-22. During these years, children challenge authority and strive for independence, but feel trapped having to be dependent on their parents for food, shelter, and protection. This obvious conflict can foster resentment and create a challenging dynamic for both the teenager and parents. Substance abuse typically results in unacceptable behavior and additional stress for the entire family. Regardless of the family dynamic before the substance abuse began, the substance-abusing teenager becomes the identified problem, with much animosity directed his or her way.
When a teenager succumbs to substance abuse, the family dynamic is altered. Harsh feeling develops, and family members’ roles shift. Because of this, it is imperative the entire family becomes involved in the recovery process.
Teenagers who succumb to a Substance Use Disorder start out because they like the way it makes them feel. Over time, they need more and more to produce that desired effect. As addiction professionals, we know this. We call it “chasing the first high.” Over time it is hard to duplicate, so they tend to take more and more of their drug of choice or seek more potent (and more dangerous) alternatives.
If substance abusers use mood altering chemicals because they like the way it makes them feel, or because they don’t like how they feel without mood-altering chemicals in their system, this begs for an answer to the question, “Why don’t they like the way they feel in the first place”? Why can they not simply be satisfied with life?
We attempt to help them identify those underlying issues that are preventing them from simply enjoying life on life’s terms. For each teenager, it could be different. It could be something as simple as they don’t feel as though they fit in with their peers. For some, it could be some past abuse issues. It could be a variety of things we try to identify and help resolve.
What’s the best approach to use with teenagers? There exist varied opinions as to the best therapeutic approach to use when treating a teenager for a Substance Use Disorder. At New Beginning Adolescent Recovery Center we embrace the concept of abstinence and the 12-Step philosophy. Additionally, we utilize several therapeutic approaches; Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, Reality Therapy, Music Therapy, Art Therapy, Ropes Challenge course, and others.
However, without an environment or milieu that is conducive for genuine reflection and change, these therapeutic approaches will not be as effective as desired. At New Beginnings we have created what we refer to as the “Lean Forward” initiative to create an environment in which our kids can thrive. This initiative is rooted in creating a positive peer culture and environment.
This approach begins the minute a teenager first steps foot on our campus. Prior to entering treatment, these kids have come to feel like the black sheep in the family, or the “identified screw up”. Their self-esteem is low, and they frequently display frustration and anger. But when they arrive at New Beginnings, they are treated in a completely different manner by each and every member of our team.
Lean Forward uses an acronym to summarize the main tenets of this initiative: REALISM, which represents Respect, Empathy, Acceptance, Love, Information, Support and Motivation. From the moment a teenager steps foot on the New Beginnings campus, negative labels and associations disappear. In a loving, caring environment, teens have a better chance to examine their lives, behavior, perceptions, and feelings – and a willingness to embrace a healthier lifestyle free of mood-altering chemicals.
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