Innovative Treatment Strategies: Substance Abuse

Young people experience a tough period as they move from childhood to adulthood. They experience emotional and physical changes in their lives, which may sometimes force them to do things beyond their control. Delinquent and criminal behaviors among people of such an age group are not lacking especially in the complicated and confusing world we live in today. Societies have made many efforts to prevent juvenile delinquency and foster rehabilitation of juvenile offenders. Some of them may include working with individuals to prevent them from entering the juvenile justice system, advocating for social change and social justice (Springer & Roberts, 2011, p. 15). Considerable advances have taken place since the opening of the first juvenile court in Cook County, Illinois in 1899 including policy formulation.

In the developed world, young people are facing challenges of social relations that govern a smooth process of socialization between school, family, and work. On the other hand, the young people in the developing world are facing challenges like unemployment, rapid population growth, poverty, the disintegration of family and maybe poor education systems. Such life pressures present the youth with both good and bad opportunities (Day, 2006, p. 13). Good opportunities are not always the favorite amongst young people however the illegal opportunities, which include committing various offenses, substance abuse and violence are always the easier options for them (Mortimer, Larson & Jensen, 2008). This has led to increased levels of juvenile delinquency all across the globe. As a result, juvenile activists have continually challenged the governments to come up with informed juvenile justice systems.

In criminology, juvenile delinquency includes public wrongs committed by young people aged between 12 and 20 years meaning that it affects other people. Most juvenile offenses are committed in groups because young people like identifying themselves with groups. Sociologists define this as the peer group euphoria (Hubner, 2005, p. 34). There is a fundamental connection between delinquency and substance use, thus many young people who abuse substances finally end up being in the juvenile justice system. Experts also link delinquency to common negative factors such as family break up, destructive gangs, abuse, and absence of social controls. Therefore, peer group is a major cause of delinquent behavior among young people and has encouraged substance abuse. As a form of the juvenile justice system, it will be important to address the aspect of peer groups and pressure to be able to attend to substance abuse treatment.

As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure and in this case, it is much easier to deal with youth who are not yet addicted to any substance. It is therefore important to identify the risk factors and preventive factors that the juvenile system should incorporate. Various studies have demonstrated the origin and path followed in substance abuse or rather the beginning of substance use and how the problem grows into addiction (Springer & Roberts, 2011, p. 23). There are several factors identified as risk factors that underscore high probability for drug use while other factors classified as protective factors underscore reduced potential of drug use.

It is important to know that each individual goes through different phases of development. Family-related risk factors are the most important and may include; chaotic home environments especially if the parents abuse substances, failure by parents to bring up children with the right teachings or morals and absence of family bonds which significantly provides emotional security. Other risk factors beyond the family include school, peers, and the community-related risk factors. A child may become inappropriately shy or aggressive in class due to poor performances in exams and peer group pressure. Sociologists perceive drug and substance abuse behaviors in schools and within the community among the youth age mates as the most likely influence to the young people to engage in such behaviors. The protective factors include; the presence of family unity, the involvement of parents in their child’s life and growth, better performance in school, application of social conventional norms about substance use and finally strong social institutions like family and school (Kelly, 2008). The juvenile justice system addresses these two factors to develop a prevention mechanism. The primary goal is to look for avenues for prevention of initiation of the young people into drug use.

It is important to increase the social and personal competency skills, embrace sociable behaviors and attitudes and create awareness among the youth on health, social and psychological harmful consequences of substance abuse. Education should spread the negative effects of substance abuse as well as involve practical actions to help them achieve success in their academics. Today, it is very hard to find a young person with a positive public perception. Scholars attribute this largely to the media depiction of the adolescent. For example, media depicts the teenagers as independent, careless, and unruly.

The treatment of substance abuse can be approached from different domains which may include; family relationships, peer groups, the school and the community. Family prevention strategies are successfully applied for substance treatment. These strategies normally have greater impact than those programs only developed for men or women. The community program has the duty of strengthening the norms against drug use through media campaigns and policy changes. Such guidelines tend to restrict access to alcohol or any other substance. The program is always strong when accompanied by family and school intervention (Margolis & Zweben, 1998, p. 45). The school program offer opportunities to reach a subpopulation of a generation that is at a very high risk of getting into drugs.

In the juvenile justice system, cooperation and coordination are required among all the interested parties. These include the police department, judges, probation, corrections, mental health centers, and child welfare agents. For successful substance treatment, it is important to collaborate and integrate the services of the agents mentioned above (Kelly, 2008, p. 67). Consistency in practices among agencies makes it possible for information sharing. It also ensures the continuation of the youth care.

Various groups of people constitute the juvenile justice population and thus no specific form of treatment can be effective for the whole population. Delinquency and other changes to the adolescents present challenges to the system. For effective treatment, the system should focus on changing specific behaviors through involvement of the community as opposed to institution-based treatment. Family members are also involved in the treatment and rehabilitation of their children in systems known as multi-modal treatment approach for customization (Krisberg, 2008, p. 98). It is possible to customize this treatment system to solve an individualized case.

An example demonstrates that the rate of substance abuse among racial and ethnic minorities in the juvenile justice system is generally the same with very few differences. The beginning and progress of the use of drugs areare different for different races or ethnic groups. While Whites introduce their youths to drugs at a tender age, the African American youth is likely to continue using drugs for a long time regardless of when s/he began using these drugs. In the case above, it would be important to establish the causes of substance abuse in races before inferring the most improved treatment for racial and ethnic groups. Further, it would be important to think and identify the best approaches in prevention of substance abuse (Krisberg, 2008, p. 102). The adolescent girls manifest the other observation; girls enter the juvenile justice system with higher rates of depression, uncertainty, and moodiness as compared to the boys.

The use of the juvenile justice system is still limited and there is a long way to go. Experts need to carry out more research on the best rehabilitation methods to accomplish the goal of the juvenile justice and delinquency systems, despite the enormous challenges. The governments should recruit more social workers and give study opportunities to the already existing workers. This would enable them to come up with the latest treatment systems. It should also entrench Community services to pave way for new methods of treatment. The most important thing is to come up with a treatment system whose customization is easy to meet the unique needs of each youth and ensure that all parties work together. This will ensure that the system takes care of all clinical and other life domains of the young people.


Hubner, J. (2005). Last chance in Texas: The redemption of criminal youth. New York: Random House.

Springer, D.W., & Roberts, A. R. (Eds.). (2011). Juvenile justice and delinquency. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

Day, P. J. (2006). A New History of Social Welfare (5th Ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Margolis, R. D., & Zweben, J. (1998). Treating patients with alcohol and other drug problems: an integrated approach. Washington, DC, American Psychological Association.

Mortimer J. T., Larson W. R., & Jensen A. L. (2008). Social Class and Transition to Adulthood: New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development. Jossey-Bass. 12-22.

Kelly, P. (2008). Juvenile Justice in Arkansas: along a road to a promising future. Little Rock, AR: Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

Krisberg, B. (2005). Juvenile Justice: Redeeming our Children. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.