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Adolescents Are Not “Short Adults”

Adolescents Are Not “Short Adults”

Our annual special issue on adolescents and young adults could not come at a more critical time. 


With the current and highly publicized opioid epidemic, the move toward decriminalization of marijuana, and more and more young lives lost from drug overdoses and suicides, the prevention and treatment field is being challenged like never before. 


Heroin addiction is once again in the headlines, except this time it is not just an urban problem in minority ghettos. This time it is an equal opportunity scourge, affecting predominantly white, middle-class kids in middle America. 


At the same time, legislation loosening restrictions on marijuana use is becoming more prevalent. Regardless of one’s position on decriminalization and legalization, there can be no argument that we will need more innovative treatment modalities to meet what surely will be increased demand. 


Fortunately, substance abuse has been a headline media issue for months. News reports, magazine features, television specials, documentaries, and social media are abuzz. 


On the campaign trail, the country’s presidential candidates are coming to a common understanding that drug and alcohol addiction is a disease, not a moral failing, and we must treat it as such. Let’s hope they’ll follow through and put money where their mouths are. 




This issue of Counselor is jammed with informative and useful articles to benefit all professionals in our field, most especially those in the trenches.


In his “Counselor Concerns” column, Gerald Shulman reminds us what we learned long ago—adolescents are not “short adults” and treatment programs needed to be tailor-made. Even so, adolescents with substance abuse disorders are not a single category of people and Shulman presents a useful typology of substance using adolescents.


While agreeing that adolescent clients require a different approach due to their developing brains and a developmental need to differentiate from authority figures, the clinical team at Muir Wood Adolescent and Family Services advocate alternative forms of therapy, particularly experiential and adventure therapy.


In this issue’s Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment adaptation article, Susan Godley and colleagues point out that the majority of youth in adolescent treatment programs have co-occurring mental health problems, most commonly ADHD, depression, anxiety, and disorders related to traumatic stress.


In addition, Robert Roth advocates an always controversial harm reduction approach to treating adolescents, while Colin Ross offers a treatment approach for traumatized adolescents.


In her new column, NACoA President and CEO Sis Wenger reminds us all that in-depth family programs offer the best hope to create transformation in individuals and whole family systems,  begin intergenerational healing, and help to halt the generational transmission of addiction. 


And finally, Dr. Claudia Black, a long-time advocate for adolescent and family treatment, discusses both the vulnerability and resilience of our future generation in an interview with William White.