Substance Abuse TX Must Weigh Teen Social Needs. (Poor Judgment, Not Dependence, Is Culprit)

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TUCSON, ARIZ. -- Youth substance abuse and mental health problems often arise from the growing pains of adolescence, and must be treated with an understanding of a teen's social development, Dr. Charles Huffine said at a meeting on mental illness and addiction disorders sponsored by the University of Arizona.

Comprehensive therapies that take into account teenagers' need to rebel, but also link them with caring adults, are often the most successful, said Dr. Huffine of the University of Washington, Seattle.

"The most positive outcomes often come from trying to understand what kids' needs really are and seeing things from their perspective," Dr. Huffine said. In the most effective therapies, counselors form close collaborative relationships with youths and encourage them to achieve focused cognitive behavioral goals.

Research reveals that therapies that treat teens in the same way as adult substance abusers often fail to bring about long-lasting change, he said. That's because teens abuse drugs and alcohol for different reasons than adults, and rarely progress to addiction. "It's very rare to find a teenager who has true substance dependence. What teens often exhibit is poor judgment--poor judgment that leads to substance abuse," Dr. Huffine said at the meeting also sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Classifying teens into DSM-IV categories is, likewise, ineffective. Teens' behavioral problems and substance abuse are more likely to be signs of anger and ways to express themselves than symptoms of true mental illness, according to Dr. Huffine. "Teens behave in ways that are dysfunctional and angry, which may include substance abuse," he said. "That's why you can't treat teen substance abuse without thinking developmentally."

The teen years are a time when most youths have reached puberty but are prohibited from taking on roles as working, productive adults. …