Teen Substance Use: How Wilderness Therapy Can Help

Substance abuse in teens, particularly marijuana use, is still a prevalent issue. Although the percentage of teens who experiment with drugs and alcohol have declined in recent years, the problem is not going away anytime soon. So how can parents address it? And what are treatments for substance use issues in teens? Todd Green, Primary Therapist at Trails Carolina, answers these questions and more below: 

Why do teens use substances to cope with underlying challenges?

Substance use in teens can stem from any number of issues. Teens will use marijuana or drink alcohol as a way of coping with the challenges they are dealing with deep down inside. These may include: agriculture alcohol bottle 5964

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Identity Issues
  • Trauma
  • Feelings of Social Isolation
  • Peer Pressure

Many of the teens I work with say that substances can help numb the negative emotions they are dealing with. However, substances also numb positive feelings as well. Drugs and alcohol are not selective in how they create those feelings of numbness. Substances serve as an unhealthy distraction for teens wishing to escape their issues.

What are treatment options for teens struggling with substance use?

At Trails Carolina, we utilize wilderness therapy to address the underlying challenges that have driven students to experiment with drugs and alcohol. A wilderness therapy environment provides an opportunity for teens to fully immerse themselves in the beauty of nature, away from all distractions. Guided by therapeutic experts, students get the chance to look inwards and begin to shape personal goals and healthy coping techniques.
For teens who have experimented with substance use in the past, effective therapeutic techniques include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT addresses the thought process that drives teens to use substances. It helps students begin to understand how and why they decided to use substances in the first place. Through CBT, students abandon all that they’ve previously thought about their substance use and begin to shape a less rigid, black and white understanding of the underlying causes of their experimentation.
  • Premises of Seven Challenges model: We use a model that takes a similar premises to the Seven Challenges model. This model meets students where they are at in their healing process. It examines how substance use began and what parts of a student’s life it has interfered with. Through this model, students develop alternate activities that help fill the void that has previously been filled by substance use. Another piece of the model is taking specific measures to prevent a relapse from occurring. Students create a straightforward plan in case they feel like they may relapse or have relapsed.

Parent Involvement in Recovery  

At Trails Carolina, parent involvement in the healing process is one of the key components of making sure the positive changes and steps towards success continue after a student leaves Trails. If parents aren’t “all in”, students are more likely to regress to their previous behaviors.
For teens struggling with substance use and experimentation, we need to make sure there is a solid plan in place in case a teen relapses or struggles with sobriety. It’s going to be an emotional journey that will likely have ups and downs, but if families feel like there is a plan when things go wrong, their child is more likely to get back on the right path. It’s important for parents to try to be as objective as possible and not let their emotions get in the way in case their child relapses.

Trails Carolina can help

Trails Carolina, a wilderness therapy program with the tools to address substance abuse in teens ages 10-17, can help your teen achieve lasting success. We help young people who struggle with emotional and behavioral challenges such as depression, anxiety, and trauma work towards a happier, healthier future,
For more information about Trails Carolina, please call 800-975-7303.

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Avatar of Jeremy Whitworth

Jeremy Whitworth

As Executive Director at Trails Carolina, a leading wilderness therapy program for youth and teens, I oversee operations and collaborate with our leadership team. Since 2022, I've also hosted the Common Ground Podcast for parents: https://trailscarolina.com/common-ground-podcast/ With a background in Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education, I've managed adventure-based therapeutic programs across the US and Canada. My experiences in competitive athletics and adventure sports have honed my leadership, risk assessment, and decision-making skills, which I apply to running a successful business like Trails Carolina.

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Trails saved my daughter’s life. Amanda is an amazing human and a brilliant therapist. I am so grateful to her, Science Steve, and the other wonderful people who could reach my daughter at a time when I could not.

Margot Lowman August 2022

Great life changing experience for our son. After becoming addicted to gaming during covid he was very depressed. At Trails he experienced the wilderness, Science Steve, learning survival skills and top notch therapy and support etc… I highly recommend! This gave our son and our family a renewed family bond full of love and excitement about his bright future.

Winnifred Wilson July 2022


Outstanding clinical work and superb staff! There’s a great culture at this company and it shows with how they engage with families/clients.

Kristin Brace June 2022


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