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With the right help, young people can overcome their drinking problems and lead a healthier life. Effective alcohol treatment for adolescents can improve not only their own lives, but the lives of their friends and loved ones.

A plethora of studies have begun to emerge discussing the effectiveness of adolescent treatment, and several large studies are currently underway. 1,2 These studies show that alcohol treatment for adolescents not only reduces alcohol use, but also spurs a range of behavioral and psychological improvements. One researcher found that adolescents who successfully complete treatment report improvements in drug use, psychological adjustment, school performance and criminal activity the year following treatment. 3 A recent federal government study also revealed that treatment for substance abuse disorders among adolescents significantly reduces substance use and criminal activity, concluding that administering treatment to adolescents would greatly prevent future substance use-related problems as the young person transitions into adulthood. 4

Adolescent Needs Are Unique

A consistent theme emerges from such studies: adolescents are unique and require treatment that has been specifically designed for them. Adolescent drinking behavior has special characteristics that set it apart from adult drinking behavior. Adolescents go through distinctive and unique developmental stages; their alcohol abuse patterns and factors that influence their use differ from adults and require different treatment approaches and components.5 Most adolescent substance use, for instance, is characterized by bingeing and opportunistic use. 6 Young people have more trouble than adults projecting the consequences of their drinking. 7 Additionally, young people are more likely to use and abuse illicit drugs at the same time that they engage in risky drinking. Further, adolescence not only marks the onset of alcohol use, but also of psychiatric disorders. All of these factors can complicate treatment. 8,9

But with rapidly expanding knowledge about how to treat alcohol problems as well as new understanding of the neurological changes experienced during the teen years, experts know more than ever how to craft effective treatment regimens for young people.


1 Dennis, ML & White, M.K. 2002. The effectiveness of adolescent substance abuse treatment: a brief summary of studies through 2001. Prepared for Drug Strategies adolescent treatment handbook. Bloomington, IL: Chestnut Health Systems. Available online:

2 Dennis, ML & White, M.K. 2002.

3 Hser, Y., Grella, G., et al. 2001. An Evaluation of Drug Treatments for Adolescents in 4 US Cities. Archives of General Psychiatry 58(7): 689-695.

4 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 1999. Treatment of Adolescents With Substance Use Disorders Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series 32. United States Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrations, Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

5 Hser, 2001.

6 Bukstein, O. 1994. Treatment of Adolescent Alcohol Abuse and Dependence. Alcohol Health and Research World 18 (4): 296-302.

7 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 1999.

8 Bukstein, 1994.

9 Physician's Leadership on National Drug Policy. 2001. Adolescent Substance Abuse: A Public Health Priority, An evidence-based, comprehensive, and integrative approach. Available online: