Posted on February 3, 2017 in Addiction

Art Therapy for Teens Suffering From Addiction

Current figures show that American teenagers are substantially reducing their involvement in many kinds of substance use. Despite this fact, millions of teens still abuse alcohol, marijuana or other substances, and a significant number of these teens develop diagnosable symptoms of addiction and enter treatment. Recent research shows that the use of art therapy for teens in substance treatment programs may provide some crucially important benefits.

Teens and Addiction

Teenagers have some unique risks for developing diagnosable problems with substance abuse and substance addiction. Many of these risks stem from the incomplete development of the teen brain. While the area of the adolescent brain responsible for feeling pleasure is fully developed, the area responsible for making sound judgments and decisions lags years behind. This means that your teenager has the potential motivation to abuse drugs or alcohol (i.e., a desire for pleasurable experiences), but lacks the self-control needed to consistently avoid bad decisions. In substance treatment, addiction specialists must take the specifics of the teenage brain into account when making decisions on which medications and non-medication-based approaches will produce the best results.

Art Therapy Essentials

Art therapy is recognized as a complementary form of mental health treatment that doctors can add to their main treatment programs. During this therapy, groups of patients learn how to use paints and other materials to create their own works of art. Under the guidance of a trained art therapist, this process helps participants do such things as:

  • Gain emotional self-awareness
  • Improve their social skills
  • Improve their ability to cope with reality
  • Lower their anxiety levels
  • Gain control over their behaviors
  • Develop an improved sense of self-esteem

Together, these and other skills give art therapy participants the tools needed to improve their overall function and develop a sense of wellness.

Usefulness for Teen Addiction Treatment

Roughly 15% of all substance treatment programs in the U.S. offer art therapy. Approximately 11% of all teens in treatment have access to a program that uses art therapy and/or music therapy. There is a long history of studies that support the usefulness of art therapy for teens and adults receiving help for drugs or alcohol problems. Specifically, this therapy can:

  • Reduce the tendency to deny the reality of substance problems
  • Help lower resistance to treatment program participation
  • Reduce any shame associated with having substance problems and being in substance treatment
  • Improve the ability to interact with peers in treatment
  • Help provide the motivation needed to make progress in treatment

Some researchers believe that by providing an outlet for inner experiences, art therapy may be an ideal choice for teens enrolled in a substance treatment program.

Resources

National Institute on Drug Abuse: Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment – A Research-Based Guide
https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-adolescent-substance-use-disorder-treatment-research-based-guide/introduction

American Art Therapy Association: What Is Art Therapy?
http://arttherapy.org/upload/whatisarttherapy.pdf

Journal of Addictions Nursing: The Use of Art and Music Therapy in Substance Abuse Treatment Programs
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4268880/

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