Teen drug treatment addresses motivation, relationships

Posted1/25/2015 7:00 AM

The younger the heroin user, the less likely he or she is to be in treatment by choice.

When teens are in detox, rehab or counseling, it's likely they were forced to join a program by parents, teachers, police or a drug court.


And that creates an extra challenge for the medical professionals trying to help the young users overcome heroin.

"The kids, by and large, don't really want to be here," said Dr. David Lott, medical director of addiction treatment programs for Linden Oaks Hospital at Edward in Naperville. "It's very rare that the kid goes to mom and says 'Hey, I have a drug problem. Can you help me get help?'"

When dealing with an often unmotivated group of young drug users, who Lott says "don't really see the problems" of their habit, counselors have to get creative.

Frequent drug testing helps. It forces teens to be honest about whether they have gotten high or stayed clean.

Rewards help. Teens are more motivated by prizes than are adults, who need more than a token to influence their behavior.

But Justin Wolfe, a therapist in Linden Oaks' adolescent chemical dependency dual diagnosis program, said the real key to successful teen drug treatment is a focus on relationships and the things teens value.

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"Usually there is a relationship or relationships that have been negatively impacted by the (drug) use," Wolfe said. "It's almost like the only relationship they are focused on is with the drug. It pulls them away from everything else in life, their passions."

Teens, like the 14- to 18-year-olds Wolfe works with, often can't see the true consequences of their actions because their brains aren't wired to think that far into the future. So Wolfe helps them gain perspective and realize all the things they're missing when they're doing drugs.

Acknowledging what else has suffered because of drug use can help teens with the "emotional piece" of being ready for recovery, Wolfe says. Then it's back to treatment procedures that experts say can help drug users of any age begin the path of recovery and relapse prevention:

• Educating them about the harmful short- and long-term effects of the drug.

• Recognizing the triggers that lead to drug use.

• Building skills to cope with triggers and overcome stress without turning back to drugs.


• Developing a supportive, sober network of family and friends to make a drug-free life a reality.

• Connecting them with a 12-step recovery group.

"If they get involved in a 12-step group, that's a big step we really encourage," Wolfe said. "It's putting them in a positive place to be successful."

• This article is part of our "Heroin in the Suburbs: Through Their Eyes" series. For more see http://bit.ly/DailyHeraldHeroinSeries

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