Behavioral Therapy Techniques You Can Try At Home For Your Teen And Substance Abuse


If you are a parent of a child who struggles with substance abuse, this article will help you understand what addiction is. You will also discover some techniques from behavior modification therapy that you can try at home with your troubled teen struggling with substance abuse.

Because substance abuse is complex and life-threatening, please seek the help of clinically-licensed mental health professionals. At Liahona Treatment Center, a residential treatment center for troubled boys, we have an entire team of mental health practitioners, teachers, and other qualified staff to help teens who struggle with substance abuse. Reach out to us today so that we can help you and your family.

Defining addiction to substances

Before learning about the substances a teen might be struggling with, here’s how the DSM-5, a manual used by mental health professionals to diagnose an illness or disorder, defines addiction.

For a troubled teen to be diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder, they must be:

  • unable to control the use of this substance
  • using the substance long after they should have stopped and at a greater amount than they should
  • spending a lot of time trying to get access to the substance or from withdrawing from the substance
  • an intense craving, so much so that the brain has changed to seeking that constantly seeking that substance.
  • struggling with socialization and or maintaining relationships
  • struggling with relapse so that it often impairs the ability to function at school, work, or in daily life

While there are many more signs that the DSM-5 mentions, these are some of the most important signs used to diagnosing a substance-abuse disorder. It’s also important to note that substance abuse operates on a spectrum--from mild to severe.

Types of substance abuse

Here are some of the most common substance abuse disorders and the prevalence.

Alcohol use disorder

According to the DSM-5, alcohol abuse is the most common disorder in all the substance abuse disorder categories. In the United States, about 8.5% of adult men and 4.6% of 12-17-year-olds have a substance abuse disorder. Alcohol abuse is more common in men than women.

It’s important to mention that alcohol abuse tends to develop in late teens and becomes more apparent in an individual’s 20s.

Cannabis use disorder

The DSM-5 states that cannabis use disorder is common in 3.5% between the ages of 12 and 17. It is more common in men than women. The use of cannabis often happens while the teen uses other substances, such as opiates and alcohol—74% of those seeking treatment from cannabis report that they also struggle with another substance abuse disorder.

The DSM-5 mentions other substance use disorders that, for the sake of the article, we’ll mention, but not cover:

  • Prescription drug abuse
  • Opioid use disorder
  • Other substance use disorders such as sedative, hypnotic or anxiolytic use disorder.

It’s important to remember that substance abuse might be an indication of an underlying mental illness. Self-medicating, or what is commonly known as trying to treat an illness on one’s own, is common in cases where an individual has a mental illness but turns to substances for treatment or as a way of coping.

Behavior Modification Therapy: monitoring your teen’s environment

Behavior modification therapy is a type of therapy that believes in three things:

  • Behavior is learned.
  • Behavior can be changed.
  • Behavior requires interventions based on positive and negative reinforcements.

As we’ve mentioned in previous articles in this series on behavioral health, behavior modification therapy is rooted in the idea that change is possible.

The fundamental way that behavior modification therapy can be useful to your teen with a substance abuse problem is that the environment plays a huge role in substance abuse. Behavior modification therapy also recognizes and identifies behaviors that are seen as enabling substance abuse.

At home behavioral health techniques to try with your troubled teen

Here are some techniques that you can use at home with your teen with a substance use disorder.

Talk to your teen about their use of substances

To help your teen with substance abuse, you will need to talk to them about their use of substances. Sometimes, teens might be unaware of having a problem in the first place. They may also shy away from talking to you about their addiction because of your status as a parent. The goal is to help your teen realize that you want to help them with this issue.

To have a productive conversation, ask your teen to identify triggers for their substance use. For example, do they feel like using substances because most of their friends are? Do they use substances because they’re trying to cope with another illness?

Monitor your teen’s environment

Substance abuse might be a sign of a dysfunctional or toxic environment. To help your teen, monitor the types of behaviors modeled at home, at school, and in your locality. For example, if you or your partner smoke, this might encourage your teen to explore smoking in its various forms as a way of coping with stress. Your teen’s friends are also essential since their friends can influence them.

Do not enable your teen’s abuse of substances

Enabling substance abuse can range from tolerating your teen’s outburst while they’re under the influence to giving them money that you know that they’ll use on substances. When you tolerate misbehavior, you’re reinforcing the idea that misbehaving is acceptable and tolerable.

Rather than shying away from involving disciplinary action, your use of negative reinforcement can help your teen realize the consequences of their addiction. Having good and clear boundaries will help you and your teen.

Encourage mindfulness rather than reactivity

Rather than turning to substances as a way to cope with stress, teach your troubled mind about mindfulness. Have them ask themselves questions such as: “Why do I have a craving right now?”

When your teen learns to ask themselves questions and is gentle with themselves, the desire to turn to substances may subside. Beating themselves up for having cravings won’t work. Instead, rather than feeling like they need to act on their cravings, teach them to sit with the discomfort of not responding.

Substance abuse is best treated and managed by a mental health professional

Because substance abuse is complex, it’s best managed by a team of mental health professionals. At Liahona Treatment Center, we offer your teen a safe and supportive environment where therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy and behavior modification therapy will be used to help them.

Reach out to us today to get your teen the help that they need.

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