Treatments for Teen Marijuana Use

Treatments for Teen Marijuana Use

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

One of the most frequent and troubling issues faced by parents is their teenager child's abuse of "recreational drugs," of which marijuana is most common.

Marijuana is more easily available than ever and children are using it at an increasingly younger age. Teens abuse marijuana more than all other illegal substances combined, including the alcohol.

Those who glamorize marijuana should remember that it is the leading substance reported in the arrests and hospital Emergency Room admissions for teens.

Myths about fun and pleasure act as the motors of vices. Teen culture tends to minimize the harmful consequences of marijuana abuse and exaggerate the pleasure aspect of marijuana. Actually, the society as a whole tends to underestimate its harmful effects. It sees marijuana as a "soft drug," and therefore not as harmful as the "hard drugs" such as acid, cocaine or heroine.

Some baby boomer parents might say, "It's only marijuana." The irony of it is that marijuana is often the precursor for the use of hard drugs. Make no mistake about it. Dependence on marijuana can be a serious and debilitating disorder.

When a teen's marijuana use and related behaviors clash with the rules of school or society, parents are answerable to the school, police and the courts. Parents often clash with each other as to how to handle the problem and often have to miss work for school conferences and court hearings. Family life is disrupted. Quality of work performance goes down.

Children who start using marijuana regularly and frequently from an early age may later experience major problems in their personal, social and emotional development, and consequently, in their education and future career. A regular and frequent use of marijuana from an early age may also play a part in the development of a mental disorder. Therefore, treatment must be sought to the fullest extent.

Many parents have an unrealistic and pessimistic view of treatment for drug abuse. They view it as a costly and lengthy treatment with little promise for recovery. This is not true. Now we have a national study, which confirms that brief and low-cost treatment can be highly effective.

The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration sponsored a study in 1997 regarding the effectiveness of treatments for marijuana abuse. The study titled as "Cannabis Youth Treatment (CYT)," which involved 600 randomly selected teens in substance abuse treatment is one of the largest and most scientifically rigorous studies ever conducted on this subject.

According to the CYT study, the bad news is that teens who use marijuana once a week or more are more likely to have problems at home, school or with the law. The good news is that once they stop using marijuana altogether, these problems rapidly decline.

Another good news is that only six to thirteen sessions of outpatient counseling delivered substantial results. Such counseling led to 50% or more reduction in marijuana use, behavioral problems, child-parent conflicts, attention deficit and hyperactivity behaviors, arguing, violence, illegal activity, school absenteeism, and academic underachievement. These improvements were sustained at least in third of the cases as demonstrated by the fact that one year after completion of the treatment, one third of teens were still abstinent of marijuana use.

Most of the remaining 50 % who did not respond to 6-13 outpatient sessions' treatment demonstrated a varying pattern of recovery and relapse. Some failed to respond to treatment right away but benefited later, some recovered and relapsed and others had multiple relapses.

Drug abuse might have become firmly entrenched in the personal and social life of those who don't respond well to brief counseling. They might lack educational, vocational and social skills to fit into the world of non-drug users. Some have a stronger genetic bias towards drug dependence. Such teens require more intensive treatment programs and follow-up support.

It appears that treatment is not an end-all. Two thirds of all recovering teens need some type of ongoing monitoring and support services. Counseling should be regarded as just a short phase in the long process of recovery.

Drug abuse is not like flu, which you treat and get over. It is more like asthma, diabetes or high blood pressure. Disease management and recovery maintenance is required. A doctor should treat the disease and educate patients in monitoring and managing the disorder.

The good news from the national study is that counseling for teen marijuana problem can be brief and inexpensive. About one half of the teens showed all around improvement in 6 to 13 weeks of counseling. As teens improved their parents reported a reduction of 42% in stress at home and 52 % reduction in missed days at work.

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Copyright 2002, Mind Publications 


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