Teen Substance Abuse Treatment

Is your teen overusing psychoactive substances on a regular basis? Psychoactive substances like alcohol, oxycodone, heroin, amphetamine, hydrocodone, and cocaine can lead to dependence and even full-blown addiction. While the act of using drugs isn’t generally categorized as a disorder, the ongoing abuse of substances does increase risks for future mental health issues. In fact, chronic substance abuse is often referred to as “Substance Abuse Disorder.”

Teens who are abusing drugs or other substances tend to become irrational, may develop home issues, and often have trouble integrating at school. While some abused substances are illegal for teens, like street drugs or alcohol, it isn’t uncommon for teens to abuse their own prescriptions or steal medications from family members or friends.

What Does Teen Substance Abuse Look Like?

  • Extreme apathy (such as lack of effort in school, social, or life spheres)
  • A negative shift in attitude, especially with regard to relationships
  • Unusual habits, such as frequent lateness or “flaking out”
  • Suddenly hanging out with “different” friends

Signs of Teen Substance Abuse

Frequent mood swings and/or irritability

Refusing to take responsibility for tasks

Possession of drug paraphernalia or drugs

Gets caught lying or being deceptive

Poor self-care and personal hygiene

Hypersomnia, insomnia, or altered sleep

Losing weight or gaining weight quickly

Unusually low or excessive appetite

Causes of Teen Substance Abuse

No two teens are alike. It’s often difficult to pinpoint exactly what causes one teen to develop substance abuse issues, yet another copes fine. The number one risk factor is simply easy accessibility. Teens tend to be curious, and peer pressures have the power to encourage them to take risks they might not otherwise take on their own volition. Even if home life is peaceful and supportive, a friend offering an “interesting experience” on a regular basis may be enough to convince them there’s no harm in trying it once. Continued accessibility raises the risk that they’ll dabble again, as does the fact that a teen’s brain is still developing and lacks full ability to control emotions, impulses, and self-confidence. 

Other risk factors include:

  • High levels of stress, both at home and at school
  • Underlying mental health issues (self-medication)
  • Trauma (self-medication)
  • A history of poverty in childhood
  • Social isolation or awkwardness
  • Ostracization and/or bullying
  • Genetics or family history

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Teen Substance Abuse Treatment | Paradigm San Francisco


of teen will misuse drugs at least once


of teens access drugs at home or via friends


of all parents believe they are helpless against teen addiction

How Can I Help My Teen with Substance Abuse?

Educate yourself - No two addictions are alike. Understanding what your teen is using and the unique risks it carries to their health and well-being is important. By learning about the drugs they use (known as their “drug of choice”), you will be able to feel more confident in knowing when you need to seek medical assistance.

Encourage a clean lifestyle - Addiction is not shameful. Everyone struggling with addiction needs a caring support system. While your teen will need to take responsibility for their own recovery, they’ll also need to know who they can turn to for help. Offering emotional support is key to helping them avoid relapsing.

Partner with your teen’s therapist - Don’t be afraid to ask your teen’s therapist about addiction and/or why your teen is having trouble coping. Your therapist can’t tell you what your teen shares in confidence, but they can help you learn how to better communicate with your teen and support them in their efforts to stay clean.

Be a part of the treatment plan - Offer to assist in your teen’s journey towards recovery. Help them develop a plan for regular therapy check-ins, getting to group meetings, and adopting new healthy lifestyle changes like exercise, new hobbies, and a safe school routine. Your teen will need your guidance as they struggle to stay on track, especially when relapses happen.

What Types of Teen Substance Abuse Treatment are Available?

Your teen needs to acknowledge they have a problem before you can seek effective treatment. Once that happens, you have several options.

Talk Therapy

Anyone going through teen substance abuse treatment must be committed to sobriety. This is a tough concept for a lot of people, not just teens. It is critical that your teen knows they are not alone in this difficult challenge. We encourage teens to ask others for help; a therapist is a great start because they can offer the specific support needed during withdrawal and beyond.

Once your teen moves past the mental and physical pain of withdrawal, psychotherapy is incorporated to keep them on track and help them develop a new life path. Many teens turn to substance abuse as a way to cope with a trauma or emotional pain, so it is important for them to develop new coping mechanisms that help them reduce those feelings without turning back to drugs. When they receive the right emotional support, they are more hopeful and usually find change to be less daunting.

Group Therapy

There is no way around it – group therapy is one of the most critical elements for teens (and adults) struggling with addiction. Talking with and listening to others makes it easier for people abusing drugs to better understand the severity of their actions. It also reminds them that they aren’t alone and don’t need to feel ashamed about falling into addiction in the first place.

The group therapy environment also lends an air of accountability in a situation where accountability can be the difference between sobriety and indulging. Everyone else has a general understanding of the same struggles, meaning they can speak honestly and identify with each other, even if relapses or triggers occur. The group mentality can motivate each member to do better while also letting each member feel heard.


Medication won’t solve substance abuse issues, but it can help with withdrawal symptoms and may also be used to treat comorbid mental health conditions. For example, doctors often prescribe antidepressants in early recovery to help with Depression and Anxiety. They may also prescribe anti-anxiety medications, IV fluids, vitamins, electrolyte infusions, or even replacement opiates (such as methadone) temporarily to reduce physical side effects.

Doctors may sometimes use medication replacement to reduce the risk of dangerous physical side effects from the withdrawal of certain drugs, including alcohol and benzodiazepines. In extreme cases, quitting these substances “cold turkey” may result in seizures and other life threatening side effects. By tapering the patient off slowly, the risk for harm is reduced.

Teen Substance Abuse Treatment at Paradigm San Francisco

Teen substance abuse treatment starts with seeking help and ends on the note that there’s a whole life full of wonders and possibilities still ahead for a teen. It’s difficult for many people struggling with addiction to think positively, or to even hope of a time when they’ll finally be in control again. But with the right treatment, that day will come sooner than most expect it. And, by seeking help, they’ve already begun their journey.

Committing to Sobriety

Staying sober is a huge commitment! Addicts need to re-learn how to live a clean life. Teens often feel overwhelmed and anxious about staying clean for the rest of their lives because they have a lot of life left to live.  At Paradigm, your teen will learn to better understand how sobriety impacts clarity – not just physical side effects.

Living a life of addiction means being stuck on one path. Living a sober life means your teen has so much to look forward to and experience. Our job is to help your teen find their way back from one path to the other so they can steer clear of future run-ins with their addiction.

Absolutely amazing. We had a life-changing experience here and I felt compelled to shout it from the roof tops! This is a top-notch organization with extremely talented therapists, clean and safe facilities and a staff that genuinely cares about its patients. Our teenaged son was quite honestly a lost cause - or so we thought. He had a dual-diagnosis and was suffering from depression, bi polar disorder and was self medicating with marijuana and pain pills. Now, as a direct result of the people at Paradigm, he is doing so very well. He is clean and sober and is an active participant in his life! This experience was worth every single penny we spent and we couldn't be more pleased with the results. Thank you.

– Brian T.

Frequently Asked Questions about Teen Substance Abuse

What if I can’t stop, even when I try?

You can. You just need the right support. Addicts often try to quit multiple times before they get it right, and relapse is almost universal across most addicts. Even when you are sober, the cravings never really stop. The good news is that messing up once doesn’t mean you’re a lost cause; in fact, every relapse can help you become stronger if you learn from it. If you’re willing to keep trying, we’re willing to help and support you throughout the entire process.

I only use drugs for stress relief. I’m not an addict.

How people view substance use versus substance abuse is sometimes subjective. The reality is that you need to be truthful about when, where, and how often you’re using the substance you’re using, and why you’re using it. What starts as casual can quickly turn into an addiction shadowed by denial; the brain’s desire for the substance will convince you that your behavior is normal even though it isn’t.

“Needing” substances of any kind to unwind isn’t healthy, but it’s especially problematic for teens. The developing brain is much more susceptible to addiction, especially in the formative years, and developing an addiction now could leave you with problems for life.

Even if your addiction started as a casual, weekend-only party use here and there, it can quickly spiral out of control. Before you even realize it, you no longer have the option to say no. If you need it to feel normal, or just to get through the day, you are no longer in control. Professional help from Paradigm can help you break free.

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