Going Beyond the Surface

mother asking questions to explore deeper

The great challenge for any treatment professional is to find out why their client acts and feels the way they do. If an individual struggles with substance abuse, they may feel like their family members, friends, and even previous treatment providers wrote them off as ‘just’ an addict. Too often, the assumption is that the problem has been identified, and treating it alone will lead to recovery and no recurrence of addiction.

It’s imperative to go beyond the surface and dig deep into what the real issues are. The parents of an adolescent struggling with addiction are better prepared to help their loved one when they reframe the situation and understand that a child typically abuses alcohol or drugs as an attempt to deal with their problems, rather than the addiction being the actual problem. When the people treating the adolescent help the client explore the depths of their issues, there is a much-improved chance for long-term success.

Mental Illness Often Accompanies Addiction

More than 60% of adolescents in community-based substance use disorder treatment programs also meet diagnostic criteria for another mental illness. Drug use often begins during adolescence, which is also a typical time for mental illnesses to start showing signs. Studies show that youth who abuse drugs are at a greater risk for the development of mental illness. As well, minors with mental health conditions may go on to develop an addiction. 

Therapy that involves making a connection between addiction and mental illness can help a young person realize that their problem isn’t so black-and-white. They did not choose to experiment with substances and become addicted to them out of immaturity or thoughtlessness. Removing the guilt factor this way allows the person to begin to make progress towards treating their underlying issues to reduce the need for drugs and alcohol to self-medicate.

Multiple Options Allow Clients to Go Deep

When assessing an adolescent for treatment, it’s important to draw from several options when putting together a success plan. In the past, the stereotype of a patient lying on a couch and engaging solely in talk therapy was often seen as the best, and only, option. Today there are several approaches to take when treating an adolescent dealing with mental health and addiction diagnoses. Individual therapy remains essential for each person, but ideally, other avenues are incorporated, too. The more appropriate options explored, the more likely it is to go beyond the surface in treatment.

EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) provides a patient with a newfound ability to process traumatic events and lower their anxiety levels. Addressing physical health is an approach with many options. Exercise, including gentler forms of it such as yoga, can help when they are incorporated regularly. Picking a particular sport or pastime, such as mixed martial arts, gives new focus and the potential for experiencing pride as the young person begins to master this new activity. 

Power in Numbers

Group therapy can provide an eye-opening experience for young people. They may have spent a great deal of time believing they were alone in their problems and are relieved to see others their age have had similar emotions and experiences. Peer support often offers an effective way to help a young person open up and feel less isolated. Twelve-Step based groups are a much-used source for adults and youth alike to address their struggles with addiction. Like group therapy, they assist in removing the feeling of isolation or not knowing anyone who understands the person’s struggles. Research suggests that adolescent’s strategies based on a 12-Step program may contribute to the individual attending outpatient treatment. 

Including the Family in Treatment

When a young person dealing with co-occurring disorders sees that their family is involved in educating themselves and learning to help them succeed, it can provide a much-needed boost in confidence. When one family member is wrapped up in their issues, the entire family is fractured, making it essential for them to move individually and as a unit to help become whole again. It allows each family member to consider what they might have contributed to the problem, and how they can help change the family dynamic to something healthier. The family can participate in therapy while the child is in a residential program and continue on an outpatient basis.


Many mental health conditions respond favorably to prescription medications. A full assessment of the client by a physician or psychiatrist is vital to decide which route to take. Many people are nervous about taking a new medication, making it important to reassure them that they will be monitored for any side effects or a need to discontinue the medication. There is commonly a fear of being on a drug for the rest of their lives. While this may be true for some, many people who begin taking prescription meds will only use them temporarily, which should be pointed out to the individual.

When your child is suffering from addiction and mental illness, you want to help them immediately. The problems did not develop overnight, which means the treatment will take time. Sustain Recovery understands that going beyond the surface is important when it comes to designing a treatment plan for your child. Our long-term programs for adolescents dive deep into how we can help them understand the issues and commit to treatment, both while attending our programs and after they return home. We offer comprehensive treatment, including individual therapy, 12-Step programs, holistic modalities, and residential schooling. Our California facilities are the perfect place to let your child start over. We are eager to talk to you about how we can help your child turn their life around and how your family can become whole again.

Call us now! (949) 407-9052.