Teen Drug Use: Treating Adolescent Substance Abuse

Teen Drug Use: Treating Adolescent Substance Abuse

We can no longer pretend that teen drug use isn’t happening. There’s many reasons why teens try drugs. It could be to experiment, for fun, as an escape,  to ‘feel better’, because of peer pressure, or to stay awake and study. Whilst teen drug use is concerning, it is most concerning when use turns into abuse.

The Stats on Teen Drug Use

Alcohol, cannabis and tobacco are the most common drugs used by teenagers. Teen drug use was the focal point of the Australian Secondary Students’ Alcohol and Drug survey. The survey found cannabis to be the most commonly used illicit substance among 12 to 17 year olds, with 16% of students claiming to have used the substance.

  • 3% had tried amphetamines
  • 3% had tried ecstasy
  • 1.5% had tried heroin.

As parents, everyone makes their own decisions and has their own opinions about teen drug use. One thing that is important, regardless of where you stand on this issue, is when use becomes regular drug abuse.

One of the most common mental health disorders experienced by young people in Australia is a substance use disorder. It is estimated that 12.7% of people aged 16-24 have a substance use disorder, with higher rates among young men (16%) than young women ( 10%). The effects on the brain and rest of the body can affect the teen throughout their life.

Treatment options for Teen Drug Use

There’s no way to guarantee your child will never take drugs, or that if they do they won’t develop a problem. Addiction is a disease that has no prejudice. Thankfully, there are a variety of treatment options available for teen drug use.

The first step could be a visit to your local GP or psychologist, or contacting the intake and assessment team at a rehab for some advice.

There are many highly successful, comprehensive treatment programs specifically targeted to treating teen drug use. Some take a multi-dimensional family approach where the teen drug user, parents and other family members are involved; while others focus more solely on treating the user. Research has shown that a multi-dimensional family approach gives the addict the best chance at a successful, fulfilling and long-term recovery.

Outpatient Program

Many teen addiction treatment options are outpatient programs. This means addicted teens stay home with their families during treatment and recovery and attend day programs and/or counselling appointments for support.

Family-based Approach

These programs are also Outpatient Programs and take a multi-dimensional family approach which involves parents and can also include siblings. These programs are based on the premise that all family members are affected by teen drug use, and focus on allowing the whole family to heal.

With this approach, each family members’ perspective is considered as is the teen’s relationship with individuals in the family. Issues addressed include risk-taking behaviour, dealing with resistance, and understanding the effects of teen drug use on the body. The program also involves educating parents and other family members on how to respond to challenging behaviour in a way that isn’t harmful to the relationships within the family. Arrow Health’s adolescent program utilises the multi-dimensional family approach.

Inpatient Program

In more severe, longer term cases of teen drug use, an inpatient program may be suggested.  Inpatient programs involve admitting the teen into a specialised treatment facility that offers 24-hour care and support.

Recovery support services

Recovery support services support ongoing recovery from teen drug use. These programs help teens stay sober once treatment ends and offer a supportive space for teens to share their experiences with other recovering users.

What to do

If you suspect your teen is using drugs, seek support to assist you in having a positive conversation with them. Raise your concerns once you’ve had time to think and are clear on the best approach. Whether or not you can stop your teen using, you can still have a relationship with them. You might need support to learn how.

Help is out there for teen drug use. It’s about finding the right approach.

Remember, teens can find recovery from addiction, and family relationships can be restored.


  1. https://campaigns.health.gov.au/drughelp/drug-trends-and-statistics (statistics from The Australian Secondary Students’ Alcohol and Drug 2014 Survey)
  1. https://headspace.org.au/health-professionals/understanding-substance-abuse-for-health- professionals/ (statistics from the report Australian secondary school students’ use of tobacco, alcohol, and over-the-counter and illicit substances in 2011)
  1. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/HealthyLiving/drugs-teenagers-parenting
  2. https://www.addictioncenter.com/teenage-drug-abuse/addiction-treatment/

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