Substance Use Disorder in Adolescents and Young Adults

Substance Use Disorder in Adolescents and Young Adults

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Alcohol and drug use can lead to risky and harmful behaviors. The team at Duke’s center for adolescent substance use treatment works with families to create customized plans that help young people overcome alcohol and other drug problems. Our treatment options include outpatient and intensive outpatient treatment programs.

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Signs of Alcohol and Other Drug Problems

We consider any use of alcohol or other drugs by adolescents and young adults to be problematic because of its harmful impact on young, developing brains.

Be on the lookout for:

  • Change in behavior -- for example, from drinking only on the weekend to drinking during the week
  • Change in a peer group, especially if your child’s peer group shrinks to include mostly others known to frequently use alcohol or drugs
  • Sudden or gradual drop in grades
  • Money missing from accounts
  • Stains on fingers, burn holes in clothes
  • Suspicious packages frequently delivered to your home

Seek Professional Help
If you are concerned about your child’s behavior, don’t hesitate to contact us. Nearly all of the teens and young adults with whom we work are referred to us by their families, schools, or community institutions. Your early intervention can have an enormous impact on your loved one’s future.

We Treat Young People Ages 13-24
The evaluation and treatment process typically starts within seven to 10 days of contacting us. We believe teens and young adults have the best chance of succeeding when they and their family, counselors, doctors, and other significant people their life work together on a treatment and recovery plan.

Our Locations
Duke Health offers locations throughout the Triangle. Find one near you.

Evaluation and Treatment


We start by asking you questions about your child’s development, school performance, social patterns, and family interactions to understand how the entire family can be supported. If your loved one requires stabilization or other services such as a day-hospital program or residential treatment, we will refer you to facilities we trust.

Weekly Outpatient Treatment

Individual and family therapy sessions pursue abstinence as a goal. This program is helpful if your loved one is in an early stage of problematic substance use or is stepping down from the Intensive Outpatient Program here or at another facility. During this process, we want to replace negative behaviors and self-images with positive actions and thoughts. Drug testing is a vital part of this process to validate self and family report.  

Intensive Outpatient Treatment

Our program provides nine hours a week of group therapy for patients and three hours a week for their families, with an additional hour of weekly family therapy. Patients and families may access our 24-hour on-call system for crisis stabilization and family conflict. Outpatient psychiatric evaluations can be arranged when needed. Abstinence is a program expectation in order to ensure safety and an opportunity to address therapeutic issues without the use of substances. Drug testing is a vital part of our treatment program and the monitoring process. Various outpatient individual, family, and group counseling programs are available as a step-down from our intensive program. 

Behavioral Therapies

We use cognitive and motivational behavioral therapies during one-on-one counseling to create positive behaviors and thought patterns. In groups, we also work on coping skills, problem-solving, and stress management. We teach and encourage skills of mindfulness, tolerating distress, interpersonal effectiveness, and regulating emotion. These skills help change behavior patterns, such as problematic substance use, that are not beneficial to a person’s well-being. We also use yoga to teach teens how to calm and soothe their bodies through breathing and relaxation techniques.

Ongoing Support

We encourage our young people and their families to seek ongoing support following completion of our Intensive Outpatient Program. Participants and families can choose to continue with once-a-week outpatient treatment here or in the community. We can also help connect you with therapists or community programs in your area.

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We Help Your Young Person with a Substance Use Disorder

A Team of Behavioral Health Experts
Our experts treat young people with co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders. Our substance use disorder team has the training to effectively address these disorders, including depression, anxiety, and ADHD.

Active Research Program Improves Treatment Options
Adolescent and young adults will have access to our active research program to improve substance use disorder treatment. Our studies have included counseling techniques for addressing alcohol or marijuana use along with depression.

A Network of Area Contacts
If an adolescent or young adult needs care beyond the scope of our programs or as a continuation of our services, we have a network of trusted contacts to help you and your son or daughter get the best possible care for long-term success.


Duke Children's Hospital is nationally ranked in 9 specialties
Best Children's Hospital in NC
Duke Children's Hospital & Health Center is proud to be nationally ranked in nine pediatric specialties.
Reviewed: 07/30/2018