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How is behavioral therapy used to help treat teens with addiction?

Howard J. Shaffer, PhD
Addiction Medicine
Adolescents often need specialized treatment for addiction. Behavioral therapy for adolescents focuses on helping young people develop skills (for instance, developing healthy relationships and good study habits) that might not have had a chance to flourish before they turned to their object of addiction. This form of therapy uses positive reinforcement to shape the acquisition of new skills. Youths participating in this form of therapy may have to complete homework assignments, keep records of their progress, and actively practice their skills. The therapist, in turn, offers praise and privileges when the client meets the mutually established goals. If drugs are the problem, most therapists will include a plan to collect urine samples to monitor drug use.

During treatment, adolescents learn to avoid people or situations that might promote their addiction. They learn instead to spend time doing things that are incompatible with their pattern of addictive behavior. They also learn urge control, meaning that they learn to adjust the way they view and cope with urges and cravings so that they can regulate their behavior.

During this form of therapy, parents or others close to the client might be asked to participate in group sessions so everyone can better understand and guide the adolescent away from harmful behaviors.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.