A recent research project published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence highlighted the importance of early interventions on women using drugs, particularly those who are considered to be at high-risk through being enrolled in the foster care system.
The study involved 153 women who received a randomized controlled trial of Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care (MTFC) while they were still in adolescence. After receiving five assessments over the course of a 24-month period, it was found that those who received MTFC care displayed significantly less drug use over this time period. In contrast, the girls assigned to the treatment-as-usual (TAU) condition did not report any marked decline in their drug use.
Part of this success likely also has to do with the supportive environment that those in the MTFC program received. MTFC parents were given high levels of support and resources, so the improved relationship between parent and adolescent likely led to the girls being mentally able to build healthy friendships and romantic partnerships. However, researchers also found that drug use among romantic partners led to an increase in drug use among the MTFC adolescents.
Drug Use in Adolescence
The timing of these interventions is especially crucial because the peak of illicit drug use takes place during adolescence and early adulthood, regardless of whether or not women are in the foster care system, according to data from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. A separate study published that same year in the Journal of Marriage and Family also yielded similar results when surveying high-risk individuals. Using a sample of people currently in the juvenile justice system, they found that drug use increased between the ages of 19 and 22 and then progressively tapered off.
Not only are most adolescents exposed to drugs during their time in school, many of them have misconceptions about certain drugs being safer than others. Approximately 29 percent of high school students reported being exposed to drugs on school grounds, while 40 percent believed that over-the-counter prescription drugs are safer than illegal drugs. Because of this, it’s important to catch and treat potential substance abuse issues early.
Kim S. Griswold, M.D., an associate professor of family medicine and psychiatry at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, also notes that primary care treatment for adolescent substance abuse should occur in conjunction with treatment from psychiatrists or other mental health experts.
Parents and loved ones should have direct and honest conversations with their teenagers about drug use. Although it’s important to enforce ground rules and make it clear that you won’t condone drug use, teenagers also need to know they can be honest with you about any potential substance issues they face. This will ultimately give them the knowledge and confidence they need to resist peer pressure to use drugs.
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