Teen Substance Use: How Wilderness Therapy Can Help

    Substance use amongst 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: 

    • 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 the 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 for 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.

    AUTHOR

    Todd Green MSW, LCSW

    Todd grew up on a lake in the beautiful mountains of Morgantown, WV and subsequently pursued a bachelors and masters degree at WVU. He started at Trails in 2011 after working for over a decade with adolescents and their families in their homes and in a residential setting. He has a relational approach that helps him to quickly gain rapport with students who have a hard time trusting others. Todd’s passions outside of Trails include spending time with his family, rock-climbing and surfing. His love for both the mountains and the ocean keep him very busy!

    All stories by: Todd Green MSW, LCSW