Substance Use Support Group Helps Teens Get Healthy

The facts are sobering.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about half of adolescents have misused drugs at least once by 12th grade, and more than three in five high school students report having had at least one drink. The number of teens dying from drug use and overdose now exceeds the number of deaths from motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. Robert Roth, MFCC, MAC, an Adolescent Specialist at MedStar Montgomery Medical Center’s Addiction and Mental Health Center (AMHC), is dedicated to tackling the difficult issue of substance abuse in the Olney area.

He understands the enormity of the problem very well—but also understands how impactful intervention can be. Roth leads a twice-weekly confidential support group for adolescents ages 13-18 who are struggling with substance use. He also leads another adolescent support group focused on mental health. Because substance use and mental health struggles are often intertwined, some teens attend both groups.

Teens do not need to identify as an addict or alcoholic in order to attend. Roth has seen the program help both teens with early signs of substance abuse and those with long-term addiction issues. Roth encourages parents to get past the fear and shame and reach out for help. The program is confidential, welcoming, and can make a huge difference.

“Just like adults, youths can struggle with depression, anxiety, and stress—even teens who are high-achievers at school or have healthy, supportive families,” he says. “Oftentimes, adolescents are using drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. They may become addicted to the feeling of intoxication more than to any one particular substance. We’re here to help them find other ways to feel OK.”

The program is open to teens who are using any type of intoxicating substance. The most common issues Roth and his colleagues see are marijuana and alcohol use. Although alcohol is legal for adults and marijuana laws are rapidly changing, neither substance is legal for teens. And even substances that are unlikely to be lethal on their own can lead to legal trouble and dangerous behaviors. Teens do not need to identify as an addict or alcoholic in order to attend a support group.

 “Intoxicated behaviors are as big a risk as substances themselves,” Roth explains. “Intoxicated driving and unsafe sex are just two of the risks.” Additionally, self-medication with drugs or alcohol can delay needed treatment for mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.

The biggest takeaway for parents of teenagers? There’s no need to wait until addiction is “bad enough” or a teen hits “rock bottom.” Whether you’re just a little concerned about your child’s substance use or very worried, it is worth calling MedStar Montgomery to talk about support. The AMHC support groups are typically covered by insurance, including Medicaid. Concerned parents can call Roth to talk about whether their child may benefit from the groups. Usually, the first step to enrolling is for a teen to attend a free evaluation at the AMHC.