New Directions Program (NDP) has been working with adolescents, young adults and their families for over 40 years. NDP developed a reputation for good work because we focused on the concept and phase of “intervention” as the foundational principle in work with adolescents and young adults. When we use the word intervention, we do not mean that we intend to gather your child’s closest relatives and friends into a room so they can urge him, her, or them to change. Rather, we mean to intervene on the progression of your child’s addiction by moving proactively at a time when they may not.
Most people begin using drugs and alcohol at the same time in their lives when they are developing and defining their personal identities and pursuing close relationships outside of their family. These are crucial moments of growth and transition and occur at equally crucial moments in brain growth and development. For these reasons, alcohol and drug use at these times can affect your child’s personal, social, and neurobiological growth negatively and, at times, permanently.
Drug and alcohol use at these stages of growth and development also account for a number of the differences in the progression of Substance Use Disorders (SUD) between adolescents/young adults and adults. The most important of these differences is the rate of progression. An adult who begins to use alcohol and/or drugs may take years to develop symptoms consistent with a severe SUD, but an adolescent or young adult with the same pattern of use (frequency and amount) may exhibit the same negative effects in a matter of months. In adolescents and young adults, mind-altering chemicals affect not only what has grown and developed but what is grown and developed.
For a number of reasons, unfortunately, even as these symptoms and their attendant effects are becoming more and more problematic and obvious, the adolescent or young adult may become less and less willing to reach out for help. And this is where we return to the concept and process of intervention, which will then move into the second and third phases: Stabilization and Consolidation.
In the Intervention phase, parents (and other primary caregivers where appropriate/necessary) introduce the fact that their child faces an opportunity for change. At this juncture, the child is unlikely to want to attend counseling; do not be surprised if this is the case. Further, this may also be the moment when the parents begin to examine their own behavior for aspects and examples of enabling and/or co-dependency: Have I done things—out of love—I thought would help that only led to additional problems (enabling)? Have I attempted to change my child in the hopes that it would make me feel better? And when my child did not change, did I only think of them more frequently and redouble my efforts to change them, leading me to feel worse about myself (co-dependency)?
So much can be accomplished if we are willing to honestly evaluate our behavior and then stop what no longer serves us. This is the foundation from which parents and their children can begin to change positively.
All three phases of treatment—Intervention, Stabilization, and Consolidation—include assessments and evaluations that will help your child define and understand their relationship to drugs and/or alcohol. They will be asked to consider—perhaps for the first time—whether their substance use has crowded out or replaced relationships, responsibilities, activities, values, and aspects of themselves they used to prize or prefer.
The first few sessions with an adolescent or young adult will be used to build rapport and examine their use and what they recognize as its effects, both positive and negative. These sessions often present the counselor with opportunities to assure or reassure the client that they may feel comfortable and free to discuss all aspects from their lives, whether trivial or consequential. As this process continues, the counselor is able to probe for areas of dissatisfaction, frustration, fear, worry, contentment, peace, confidence, and other feelings that can open up discussions on the importance and opportunity for identifying and strengthening positive behaviors and for understanding and altering maladaptive coping mechanisms.
This is far from the entirety of the process, but these early sessions allow the client and counselor to build a therapeutic alliance that makes the initial Family Session possible and substantive (See Family Counseling). Once the client identifies changes they’d like to pursue, we will assist them to move into action.
The second and third phases—Stabilization and Consolidation—consist partly of helping the client assess their emotional experiences during active addiction and recovery. They will have already been asked to describe what and how they felt as a result of the negative consequences of their using/drinking, but engaging with these feelings from the perspective of recovery can provide a feeling of safety and accomplishment that can allow them to both delve deeper into unpleasant experiences and more accurately contrast them with the positive changes from recovery.
Again, this is not all that will happen over the course of treatment, but we hope this offers a clear picture of what you can expect as your child moves from active addiction to recovery with help from New Directions Program.