Adolescents who use alcohol heavily and early in life have a greater likelihood of developing alcohol use disorder than those who don’t, which can cause long-term impairment to their growth and development. Screening tools for substance abuse can help identify and intervene at the earliest possible stage to disrupt this progression.
Effective screening and prevention need coordination among parents, health professionals, educators, and community service workers. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a community to effectively prevent addiction among youth.
How Screening Identifies and Prevents Adolescent Addiction
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening adolescents for substance use at every annual physical exam. Health professionals should pay special attention to those who have not been seen in a while or who demonstrate behaviors or other disorders related to addiction.
The screening process involves a dialogue between the pediatric care provider and the patient. For many young people, this may be their only chance to discuss substance use with a health professional. This is part of why the screening conversation is a very important one to have.
For adolescents who report occasional substance use or experimentation, a health provider can begin intervention by encouraging them to change their behaviors. For those who do not use substances, the screening staff should reinforce and support that healthy decision. If a health professional identifies a high-risk adolescent, they may make a referral for treatment.
Common Screening Tools
Health providers may first use pre-screen tools, including short questions related to substance use. Common pre-screen tools include AUDIT-C, NIAAA, NIDA, and Four P questionnaires. If patients score positive on the pre-screening questions, their doctor may ask some full screening questions.
Full screening tests include a series of questions to assess the severity of substance use. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the CRAFFT Questionnaire as a behavioral health screening tool. Another common tool is the Screening to Brief Intervention Questionnaire targeting youth from age 12 to 17. NIAAA Alcohol Screening for Youth can be used among youth between 9 and 18 years of age.
Health professionals might also use biological screens such as blood tests or urine samples. These require parental consent and are more difficult to administer. No matter which tool is used, health professionals will try to establish a level of comfort with the youth by explaining what they will be asked and how information gathered from accurate answers can help their health and well-being.
Why Professional Screening and Assessments Are Important
The normalization of substance use among youth has become prevalent in society. Parents tend to assume that they can identify risky behaviors in their own child. This is often not the case, as most youth who use substances succeed in hiding from their parents. Due to the breakdown of communication in many families, parents are not usually good or accurate screeners. However, this does not negate the importance of their role in working with health professionals.
In most instances, health professionals are in the best place to administer screening. Teens and youth tend to perceive primary care physicians as knowledgeable and are more willing to listen to them than a parent. This can lead to a higher level of cooperation.
Screening and brief interventions can also occur in other settings. For example, educators and staff in schools and community settings should also receive training that enables them to provide similar screening and prevention.
Because many schools and community organizations do not have the capacity to administer full screening, they are more equipped to succeed in prevention education, referral for treatment, and support groups.
Types of Treatment Screeners Refer Youth To
When a full screen identifies high-risk youth, healthcare providers may refer them to outpatient treatment. Common types of treatment include behavioral therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, adolescent community reinforcement therapy, contingency management, and motivational enhancement therapy.
Health professionals may also recommend parents begin family therapy once their teen begins these treatments. The risk factors that contribute to youth substance use often have to do with family concerns. Family therapy helps family systems become sources of support while helping them avoid co-dependency, enabling, and other problematic relational behaviors. Family therapy may take different forms as therapists work with varied combinations of kinship ties.
Youth Peer Support
Most recovery experts recommend that high-risk youth enter therapeutic communities. These can be 12-Step groups designed for youth or a community of therapists and teachers. School-based prevention and intervention may use knowledge-focused, social competence-focused, or social norms-focused approaches.
Apart from support from health professionals, educators, and peers, active parental involvement and the development of skills in social competence and self-regulation are also key in helping youth maintain sobriety and continue recovery.
Recovery from addiction is an educational journey to learn about how your body and brain work. This is especially true for youth and teenagers. Parents should work with health professionals and educators for screening to achieve better prevention and recovery for adolescent addiction. If you have a child you suspect of having substance use issues, work with a well-trained team of recovery experts who can educate and coach you on addiction and the recovery process. At Laguna Shores Recovery, our experienced mental health professionals approach all clients with individualized treatment plans. While we don’t serve teens, we can certainly connect you with people who do and other resources to help you and your child. Call us today to discover how you can be part of our supportive community of people in recovery and their loved ones. Call us today at (866) 229-9923.