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Differences Between Adult and Teen Treatment

Although, substance abuse treatment is often regarded as being the same across the board there are several differences. Specifically differences for adults and teens. In the following, we will show you some ways that Clearfork Academy is different.

Substance abuse treatment is most successful when the treatment program is personalized to an individual’s specific needs. Most of the time a treatment program is tailored to those individuals based on their developmental needs which are most often determined by age. Because adolescents have vastly different developmental, psychological, and physical needs compared to adults and because this is the time frame in which most people experiment with drugs and alcohol, it is imperative that treatment is finely tuned to fit the needs of our teens. Since the program is personalized to fit their needs it builds a better foundation for our teens to succeed when they leave treatment. It provides a firm foundation for them to rebuild upon and they have a greater understanding of their underlying issues.


Diagnosing substance abuse in teens and adults varies slightly. The use of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) has a set of 11 criteria the help determine the presence and severity of a substance use disorder.

  • Using more of the substance or using it longer than intended
  • Needing more of the substance over time to get the same effect
  • Craving the substance
  • Spending large amounts of time using or seeking the substance
  • Developing relationship issues over substance use
  • Having physical or psychological problems related to substance use
  • Spending less time in favorite activities due to substance use
  • Neglecting work, home, or school responsibilities due to substance use or its effects
  • Using the substance in dangerous situations
  • Being unable to stop using the substance even in the face of consequences
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if substance use is stopped

In adults the presence of 3 or more of these symptoms is an indication of a substance use disorder, however, many signs and symptoms presented in the DSM-5 are normative behaviors for teens. For this very reason, substance use in adolescents is often missed or overlooked as being part of “normal” youth development. Because of this, it is suggested to look at some of the criteria more rigorously. For Example:

  • Tolerance – Adolescents may more quickly develop a tolerance for substances for a variety of reasons, especially when moving from experimentation to more regular use.
  • Risky behaviors – Adults are more likely than teens to engage in hazardous activities while using drugs or alcohol partly because teens have limited access to these activities.
  • Withdrawal – These symptoms usually appear after years of drug abuse, making them less likely to occurs in teens, even with frequent heavy use. But just because the signs are not there does not mean substance use disorder is not present.
  • Cravings – The existence of cravings and how they are defined in teens may be vague. Some teens who use heavily report cravings, however, the definition of cravings for younger people may affect whether or not they are reported accurately.


Family participation is considered extremely vital in helping teens reduce their drug or alcohol use. Since teenagers have a required dependency on the family for many things including; transportation, monetary stability, living arrangements, and emotional connection, keeping the family involved in the recovery process increases the likelihood of follow-through. At Clearfork Academy we format this in a weekly meeting we do every Saturday before visitation with our client’s families called T.E.A.M. This resource explores ideas that the families can implement while their teen is in treatment. It provides parents and other loved relatives the chance to work on things while their teen is working on things. All of this then comes to the forefront in individual and family counseling sessions. This ensures that the family is growing together rather than becoming further separated by the distance that addiction causes.


Drug and alcohol abuse recovery is a collective responsibility that requires community across all facets of an individual’s life. Many adults tend to relapse due to stress or other negative emotional effects. For teens, aftercare and relapse prevention require a different direction. Teenage relapse risk is primarily based on peer pressure and the feeling that continuing to abuse substances contributes to social standing. We begin planning their next steps within the first week in treatment. We want our kids to succeed so we begin making connections for them outside of residential treatment at Clearfork Academy. Whether that means going to an Intensive Outpatient Program three times a week for a few hours upon discharge or going to a Sober Living facility that will maintain accountability or helping them find a Sober High School in their area. All of the decisions are made with the teen and their parent. We empower the teen to present their ideas to their parents which allows them the ability to confront a situation constructively and with compromise in mind.


When working with teens if they are not mentally stimulated, encouraged, or motivated regularly they begin to take steps backward impeding the recovery process, so we are constantly engaging them, showing interest in them and walking right beside them in this battle of recovery. When we continue to build this rapport, it provides a safe space for the teens to open up and share what is going on beneath the surface. We know that most teens are rightly reluctant to open up to strangers so our Recovery Team, from the CEO all the way down, have to be seen as mentors for our teens. We take time and go out of our way to connect with our teens and they become family the moment they arrive on campus. We remind them they do not ever have to do this alone. We show them that we care by forming relationships with them and confronting challenges beside them.


The teenage brain is still developing and at a rapid pace, therefore, they do not always make logical decisions. In fact, the information is often perceived in a very different way than the adult brain. We have to focus on emotional reasoning rather than logical reasoning. They act purely on impulse and emotion, so we take that momentum and drive it into a more positive decision. We fuel them with positivity so that when a moment or difficult situation presents itself their impulse is to remain positive. We cannot give our teens a dissertation of the day’s events, they need short, quick facts. Brevity is the key to presenting the information in a way that they can digest. We cannot say:

“Good morning. Today’s weather is sunny and 79*. First, we are going to have hygiene time so make sure you give yourself enough time to get all that done, and your bed made. Then, we are going to do our morning devotional and talk about our 3 G’s. Afterward, we are going to eat breakfast, I think its biscuits and gravy today, and then we are going to do our chores. Make sure you get with your teammate for your zone to split your chores. After that, we are going to have a process group about the addiction cycle that you learned about yesterday…”

Instead, we just say, “Good morning. Time to hygiene. After that get out to the couch so we can do morning devotional.”

When we give them short bursts of the direction it is easier for them to process and stay on task. It provides them very rigid boundaries about what we are expecting from them at that moment.


Our team is dedicated to the process and they are willing to walk alongside our teens through the thick and thin of a life in recovery. We understand that addiction can take a toll on a teen and their family and that is the way we take our unique approach in presenting information clearly and directly to our teens while keeping their families engaged in the process. We believe that through balancing all of these aspects and more in the boundaries of treatment that a teen can be successful in recovery and that they will become a vessel of change for those around them.

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