Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment: a Groundbreaking Dialog with Young People

adolescent-substance-abuse-treatment_recovery-meeting-slidesOn Monday, December 13, 2010, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), along with many other partners, sponsored 38 young people from around the country to be part of “The Young People’s Networking Dialogue on Recovery (YPNDR).” All of the young recovery advocates volunteered their time to travel to Baltimore and have a very important dialogue.
I have been around many thousands of young people in recovery in various places over the past 9 years, but never before did they have a platform like this. At times during that meeting in Baltimore, I couldn’t help but step back and realize that this conversation was different … something special was going on.
Quite literally there was a million-dollar question (perhaps a billion-dollar question) on the table: What is needed to help more young people enter and sustain long-term recovery?

To answer this question, we were fortunate to have real experts in the room. The average length of sustained recovery was 2.4 years, while the average age of participants was just 22. From 15 different states and diverse backgrounds, this group proved to be one that nobody in our system has ever had an opportunity to convene before.
High-ranking officials from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the U.S. Department of Education, and the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) sat among the youth listening intently as one common sentiment was heard over and over again: no matter whether the young people entered recovery through treatment, drug court, school, or family support, almost all of us had maintained our long-term recovery through positive peer support.
As we shared our stories, “Recovery is a way of life, it isn’t just about abstinence” came through loud and clear. All day long, thoughts bubbled up about developing community-based recovery-oriented systems of care that could support young people in or seeking recovery.
Afternoon work groups produced creative ideas about supporting young people and their families to sustain recovery. Some highlights from the workgroups included the following needs:

  • training and technical assistance to support the growth and cross-fertilization of what is working to new localities
  • making recovery part of current prevention efforts
  • increasing the availability of recovery supports in school environments, including the expansion of recovery schools
  • fostering the development of alternative peer groups focused on staying clean and sober
  • using new technologies to foster positive peer-to-peer support

For more, be sure to check out, "Widening the Door of Entry to Recovery for Young People" -- a set of PowerPoint slides summarizing the event and its recommendations I put together with Anne Thompson.
I know the full report will be out soon, and I can only hope that the decision makers truly heard the potential of what was talked about that day. These young people came from all different places and most from community-based supports that are not supported by our formal system. I just can’t help but wonder what could be possible if our system supported in policy and practice the same things that are already working for these young people in their communities.

adolescent-substance-abuse-treatment_Greg-WilliamsGreg Williams is Co-Director of Connecticut Turning To Youth and Families (CTYF). He recently was part of an A&E panel discussion on Recovery During The Holidays that included the R. Gil Kerlikowske, director of The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, and other experts on recovery.

Updated: February 08 2018