Behavioral Treatments for Adolescents

Drug-abusing and addicted adolescents have unique treatment needs. Research has shown that treatments designed for and tested in adult populations often need to be modified to be effective in adolescents. Family involvement is a particularly important component for interventions targeting youth. Below are examples of behavioral interventions that employ these principles and have shown efficacy for treating addiction in youth.

Multisystemic Therapy

Multisystemic Therapy (MST) addresses the factors associated with serious antisocial behavior in children and adolescents who abuse alcohol and other drugs. These factors include characteristics of the child or adolescent (e.g., favorable attitudes toward drug use), the family (poor discipline, family conflict, parental drug abuse), peers (positive attitudes toward drug use), school (dropout, poor performance), and neighborhood (criminal subculture). By participating in intensive treatment in natural environments (homes, schools, and neighborhood settings), most youths and families complete a full course of treatment. MST significantly reduces adolescent drug use during treatment and for at least 6 months after treatment. Fewer incarcerations and out-of-home juvenile placements offset the cost of providing this intensive service and maintaining the clinicians' low caseloads.

Further Reading:

Henggeler, S.W.; Clingempeel, W.G.; Brondino, M.J.; and Pickrel, S.G. Four-year follow-up of multisystemic therapy with substance-abusing and substance-dependent juvenile offenders. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 41(7):868-874, 2002.

Henggeler, S.W., et al. Home-based multisystemic therapy as an alternative to the hospitalization of youths in psychiatric crisis: Clinical outcomes. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 38(11):1331-1339, 1999.

Henggeler, S.W.; Halliday-Boykins, C.A.; Cunningham, P.B.; Randall, J.; Shapiro, S.B.; and Chapman, J.E. Juvenile drug court: Enhancing outcomes by integrating evidence-based treatments. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 74(1):42-54, 2006.

Henggeler, S.W.; Pickrel, S.G.; Brondino, M.J.; and Crouch, J.L. Eliminating (almost) treatment dropout of substance-abusing or dependent delinquents through home-based multisystemic therapy. The American Journal of Psychiatry 153(3):427-428, 1996.

Huey, S.J.; Henggeler, S.W.; Brondino, M.J.; and Pickrel, S.G. Mechanisms of change in multisystemic therapy: Reducing delinquent behavior through therapist adherence and improved family functioning. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 68(3):451-467, 2000.

Multidimensional Family Therapy for Adolescents

Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT) for adolescents is an outpatient family- based alcohol and other drug abuse treatment for teenagers. MDFT views adolescent drug use in terms of a network of influences (individual, family, peer, community) and suggests that reducing unwanted behavior and increasing desirable behavior occur in multiple ways in different settings. Treatment includes individual and family sessions held in the clinic, in the home, or with family members at the family court, school, or other community locations.

During individual sessions, the therapist and adolescent work on important developmental tasks, such as developing decisionmaking, negotiation, and problem solving skills. Teenagers acquire vocational skills and skills in communicating their thoughts and feelings to deal better with life stressors. Parallel sessions are held with family members. Parents examine their particular parenting styles, learning to distinguish influence from control and to have a positive and developmentally appropriate influence on their children.

Further Reading:

Dennis, M., et al. The Cannabis Youth Treatment (CYT) Study: Main findings from two randomized clinical trials. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment 27(3):197-213, 2004.

Liddle, H.A.; Dakof, G.A.; Parker, K.; Diamond, G.S.; Barrett, K;, and Tejeda, M. Multidimensional family therapy for adolescent drug abuse: Results of a randomized clinical trial. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse 27(4):651-688, 2001.

Liddle, H.A., and Hogue, A. Multidimensional family therapy for adolescent substance abuse. In E.F. Wagner and H.B. Waldron (eds.), Innovations in Adolescent Substance Abuse Interventions. London: Pergamon/Elsevier Science, pp. 227-261, 2001.

Liddle, H.A.; Rowe, C.L.; Dakof, G.A.; Ungaro, R.A.; and Henderson, C.E. Early intervention for adolescent substance abuse: Pretreatment to posttreatment outcomes of a randomized clinical trial comparing multidimensional family therapy and peer group treatment. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 36(1):49-63, 2004.

Schmidt, S.E.; Liddle, H.A.; and Dakof, G.A. Effects of multidimensional family therapy: Relationship of changes in parenting practices to symptom reduction in adolescent substance abuse. Journal of Family Psychology 10(1):1-16, 1996.

Brief Strategic Family Therapy

Brief Strategic Family Therapy (BSFT) targets family interactions that are thought to maintain or exacerbate adolescent drug abuse and other co-occurring problem behaviors. Such problem behaviors include conduct problems at home and at school, oppositional behavior, delinquency, associating with antisocial peers, aggressive and violent behavior, and risky sexual behavior. BSFT is based on a family systems approach to treatment, where family members' behaviors are assumed to be interdependent such that the symptoms of any one member (the drug-abusing adolescent, for example) are indicative, at least in part, of what else is going on in the family system. The role of the BSFT counselor is to identify the patterns of family interaction that are associated with the adolescent's behavior problems and to assist in changing those problem-maintaining family patterns. BSFT is meant to be a flexible approach that can be adapted to a broad range of family situations in various settings (mental health clinics, drug abuse treatment programs, other social service settings, and families' homes) and in various treatment modalities (as a primary outpatient intervention, in combination with residential or day treatment, and as an aftercare/continuing-care service to residential treatment).

Further Reading:

Coatsworth, J.D.; Santisteban, D.A.; McBride, C.K.; and Szapocznik, J. Brief Strategic Family Therapy versus community control: Engagement, retention, and an exploration of the moderating role of adolescent severity. Family Process 40(3):313-332, 2001.

Santisteban, D.A.; Coatsworth, J.D.; Perez-Vidal, A.; Mitrani, V.; Jean-Gilles, M.; and Szapocznik, J. Brief Structural/Strategic Family Therapy with African- American and Hispanic high-risk youth. Journal of Community Psychology 25(5):453-471, 1997.

Santisteban, D.A.; Suarez-Morales, L.; Robbins, M.S.; and Szapocznik, J. Brief strategic family therapy: Lessons learned in efficacy research and challenges to blending research and practice. Family Process 45(2):259-271, 2006.

Santisteban, D.A.; Szapocznik, J.; Perez-Vidal, A.; Kurtines, W.M.; Murray, E.J.; and Laperriere, A. Efficacy of intervention for engaging youth and families into treatment and some variables that may contribute to differential effectiveness. Journal of Family Psychology 10(1):35-44, 1996.

Szapocznik, J., et al. Engaging adolescent drug abusers and their families in treatment: A strategic structural systems approach. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 56(4):552-557, 1988.

This page was last updated April 2009