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While adolescents typically do not develop an addiction to alcohol or drugs upon first use, substance abuse early in life can contribute to a number of problems for them later down the road. Young people who begin abusing alcohol and/or drugs at an early age are at a much greater risk of developing a substance use disorder, also known as substance abuse or addiction, which is a chronic disease that affects the brain.

People who develop substance use disorders drink alcohol or use drugs in a problematic and/or dangerous way. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), signs and symptoms that indicate that a person has alcohol or drug addiction include:

  • Compulsively using alcohol and/or drugs
  • Having strong drug or alcohol cravings
  • Having difficulty or being unable to stop or cut back
  • Tolerance, or the need to drink more or use more of a drug to achieve a desired effect
  • Physical dependence or the inability to stop without having unpleasant withdrawal symptoms (e.g., trembling, nausea, headaches, vomiting, insomnia, depression, fatigue, etc.)
  • Difficulty cutting down or controlling how much or how often the person drinks or uses drugs
  • Continuing alcohol and drug use even after experiencing negative or harmful consequences, such as legal, employment, financial, health or relationship problems
  • A change in appearance (e.g., lack of hygiene or poor physical appearance)
  • Neglect of the activities or people who used to be important to the person (e.g., family, friends, work, school, etc.)

Risk Factors

Young people often start abusing alcohol and others drugs in their teenage years and early adulthood. Young people begin drinking alcohol and using drugs for many reasons. Teens’ alcohol and drug use is influenced by a combination of biological, environmental, social and developmental factors, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA):

  • Having a parent or sibling who has a substance use disorder or another mental health condition
  • Low self-esteem
  • Pre-existing emotional, behavioral or mental disorders (e.g., depression or anxiety disorders)
  • Perceiving a low risk of harm associated with alcohol or drug use
  • Sexual and/or physical abuse
  • Initiating alcohol or drug use at an early age
  • Peer pressure to fit in, especially when friends drink and use drugs
  • Experimentation or to see what it’s like
  • To increase performance in school
  • To enhance athletic performance
  • As a coping mechanism to deal with stress and other emotional troubles


Regardless of the reasons for initiating alcohol or drug use, children and teens who misuse substances early in life can face a number of short- and long-term consequences, according to WebMD. Some of the consequences of teen alcohol and drug abuse include:

  • Brain damage to areas important for thinking, memory and learning
  • Alcohol- or drug-related car accidents resulting in injury or death
  • Unplanned pregnancies
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Drug overdoses and death
  • Alcohol or drug dependence later in life
  • Suicide and/or self-harm
  • Mental health problems such as depression
  • Legal, interpersonal, school, financial and work problems
  • Chronic medical problems

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Addiction Treatment Program

Sovereign Health’s Rancho San Diego facility offers an Addiction Treatment Program to adolescents ages 12 to 17 for alcohol and/or drug abuse and addiction. The Addiction Treatment Program provides a combination of individual, group and family therapy, and tailored evidence-based, complementary and experiential treatments.

Some of the evidence-based and complementary treatments offered include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Psychodynamic therapy
  • Play therapy
  • Solution-focused therapy (SFT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills
  • Anger management
  • Stress reduction skills
  • Grief counseling
  • Neurofeedback
  • Equine therapy

During treatment, students spend the majority of their time receiving education, learning skills and other techniques to overcome problems related to substance abuse and addiction, which may aid them in coping with stress and adverse situations after their treatment has been completed. Groups are held on topics such as:

  • Medication management
  • Process groups
  • Anger, stress and symptom management
  • Coping with addiction
  • Sobriety groups
  • Substance abuse education
  • Meditation
  • DBT skill building
  • Optional 12-step groups
  • SMART Recovery (non-12 step groups)
  • Art activities
  • Music therapy and activities

Rancho San Diego’s holistic and strength-based approaches are sensitive to the needs of teens who have experienced trauma. We incorporate family members into the teen’s treatment by including weekly family therapy and a monthly intensive family program. Our trained clinicians and professional staff can help teens get the help they need to overcome alcohol or drug addiction.

For more information about the Addiction Treatment Program offered to adolescents at our Rancho San Diego facility, please call our 24/7 helpline.

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Sovereign Health offers comprehensive and high-quality treatment programming for substance abuse and mental health. Call our 24/7 helpline at any time to reach our admissions team.

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