Age-Specific Addiction Treatment

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration iterates the importance of cultural competency in the treatment of substance use disorders and points out that this extends to characteristics like gender, sexual orientation and age.

Children, adolescents and young, middle-aged and aging adults are all susceptible to drug abuse and addiction, and when it comes to treating a substance use disorder, age-specific programs are more effective than a one-size-fits-all approach due to the differing challenges, issues and needs of various age groups.

Treating Children

While the number of children who have a substance use disorder is far smaller than the number of adolescents and adults who abuse drugs or alcohol, they’re perhaps the most underserved age group but the most at-risk for developmental problems resulting from the effects drug or alcohol use on a developing brain.

Children who have an addiction are likely to have a conduct disorder, depression, anxiety or ADHD. Children in treatment generally require a different treatment approach than other age groups, including a strong focus on family therapy.

Treating Adolescents

Adolescent substance abuse is also associated with conduct disorders and ADHD as well as with eating disorders. In many cases, chronic substance abuse among adolescents is a serious indicator of other problems in life.

Some of the issues addressed in treatment for adolescents include school performance and high-risk behaviors like having unprotected sex and driving while under the influence. While family therapy is essential for treating adolescents who have a substance use disorder, group therapy and individual therapy are also effective for this age group.

Adolescent treatment focuses in part on addressing developmental issues of the adolescent brain and in part on helping young people make healthy choices and find alternatives to substance abuse. Treatment also addresses issues like low self-esteem, peer pressure, physical or sexual abuse and learning disabilities.

Treating Young Adults

Young adults who have a substance use disorder often struggle with issues like trauma, anxiety, depression, relationship problems and compulsive behaviors. They’re also typically under significant pressure to turn into capable adults who are able to handle grown-up responsibilities and enjoy a high level of independence. However, some young adults are hindered in this respect by mental health issues, and substance abuse quickly impacts a young adult’s social and emotional functioning.

Treatment for this age group focuses on peer support and a variety of therapies to help this population navigate relationships, careers, societal expectations and the quest for a greater sense of purpose and self-identity.

Treating Adults

Full-blown adults often have established careers, spouses and children at home, and other lifestyle factors that impact the way treatment is administered. While family therapy is helpful for restoring function to the family system, treatment is typically focused on addressing any co-occurring mental illnesses as well as identifying false—but long-held—beliefs and replacing these and self-destructive behaviors with healthier ways of thinking and behaving.

Treating Aging and Elderly Adults

Older adults often have unique challenges such as chronic pain, dementia and other physical and mental health problems as well as feelings of isolation and loneliness. Supportive and non-confrontational approaches to treatment are typically effective for this age group, and acknowledging the cultural expectations associated with substance use among the aging and elderly is essential for helping this population overcome feelings of shame, rediscover a life purpose and connect with others experiencing similar situations in life.

The Bottom Line for Treatment

A quality treatment program will address the specific challenges of a particular age group. If you or a loved one suffers from chronic drug or alcohol abuse or addiction, finding a program that offers developmentally and age-appropriate approaches to treatment and draws on research-based protocol for a particular demographic will help ensure the best chances for successful, long-term recovery.

  1. I’ve dealt with several members of my family facing drug addictions, at all different ages. I like this idea of having age-specific treatment plans that are best suited to fit the needs of the individual. It’s interesting that treatment for young adults focuses a lot of peer support.

  2. With addiction, not everyone is the same and that needs to be taken into consideration. As you said, having age-specific programs is important since addiction can affect pretty much everyone. Even though I know it probably won’t ever happen to me, but if it did, I would seek out help that focused on an adult group.

  3. It is interesting to me that a treatment that a substance abuse clinic for teenagers would use focuses on family therapy and eliminating high-risk behaviors. This is an age that it is important to develop correctly since everyone sets their trajectory during this time period. If I saw an at-risk teenager, I know that I would want to make sure that they got every opportunity they could.

  4. It’s interesting the different approaches you need to make in order to make it effective to their respective lives, even just with the difference between young adults and adults. Like the fact that you’ll need to take work into account and their career. I never would have thought that this was something that was taken into account when treating an adult patient.

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