How Teen Drug Treatment May Do More Harm Than Good


A Minnesota teen’s 7-week stint in drug rehabilitation helped trigger a decades-long descent into severe addiction – from regular marijuana user to daily drinker to cocaine and methamphetamine addict, says Time magazine. “It was [in rehab] that they told me that I was a drug addict and an alcoholic,” he says. “There was no turning back. The whole event solidified and created this notion in my own mind and in my social status. Who I was, was an alcoholic and drug addict.”

Substance-abuse experts are finding that teen drug treatment may indeed be doing more harm than good. Many programs throw casual dabblers together with hard-core addicts and foster continuous group interaction. It tends to strengthen dysfunctional behavior by concentrating it, researchers say. “Just putting kids in group therapy actually promotes greater drug use,” says Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The exposure can be dangerous for impressionable youngsters. “I’ve known kids who have gone into inpatient treatment and met other users. After treatment, they meet up with them and explore new drugs and become more seriously involved in drug use,” says Tom Dishion of the Child and Family Center at the University of Oregon. In academic terms, the problem is known as deviancy training, or the negative impact of friends on teen behavior – what parents would simply call a bad influence.

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