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Effective Strategies for Court-Involved Youth: Substance Use Treatment

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

[Knowledge Brief] Effective Strategies for Court-Involved Youth: Substance Use Treatment

There is a strong relationship between substance use and criminal offending among adolescents. Not only is adolescent drug and alcohol use a crime in itself, but consuming these substances can impair a youth’s judgment, exacerbate existing behavioral problems, increase youths’ exposure to anti-social influences, and contribute to a host of other risk factors for criminal behavior. One way to break this “drug-crime cycle” is to provide substance use treatment for youth in the juvenile justice system who use, abuse, or are dependent on drugs or alcohol.

When delivered properly, substance use treatment that targets adolescents can significantly reduce drug and alcohol use, lessen the likelihood of criminal offending, and reduce behavioral problems. Substance use treatment comes in many forms, and common interventions include individual and group counseling, medication therapy, and intensive inpatient care. Several kinds of interventions, such as family-based therapy and behavioral therapy, have produced promising outcomes for court-involved youth who are struggling with substance use issues.

For many court-involved youth, particularly those whose levels of substance use fall short of dependency, community-based treatment is an appropriate alternative to residential, inpatient care. Not only have outpatient interventions been found effective in reducing substance use and criminal offending, but they also allow youth to receive long-term, continuous care while maintaining ties to family, work, school, and the community.