Only about 10 percent of adolescents needing help for substance abuse problems actually enter treatment, partly because of the lack of adolescent-only services in the nation´s treatment system, according to a new study released this week by the Substance Abuse Policy Research Program (SAPRP) of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The study also found that very few of the available addiction programs for teens received high marks for quality.
“We have known that out of 1.4 million teens needing help for substance abuse, one-tenth of those get treatment, says author Hannah Knudsen, PhD, with the University of Kentucky. “Part of this treatment gap may be driven by the limited availability of adolescent-only treatment services. Less than one-third of addiction programs in the U.S. have a specialized program for adolescents.”
The study appears in the March 2009 issue of the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.
The study also found wide variations in quality among adolescent-only programs. Knudsen analyzed nine ‘domains’ of quality offered by the programs, including things like whether families are encouraged to be involved in the treatment process or whether programs offer an array of comprehensive services. She found that only a small number of them scored high in each domain. The average treatment program in this national random sample of 154 treatment programs received a medium-ranking score in overall quality.
In addition, the data suggest that some treatment programs mix teens and adults. The practice runs contrary to the recommendations of the U.S. government’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT). Knudsen said such situations can create problems because adolescents are at a different stage of life than adults. They are typically living with their families, have shorter histories of substance abuse, and they need services to be tailored to their stage of cognitive development.
The Substance Abuse Policy Research Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funds research into policies related to alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.