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Residential Substance Use Treatment for Adolescents 

Steven Hill meets a lot of adolescents in residential substance use treatment for adolescents when they are not at their best. Even so, Smith says it is common for teenagers he has worked with to say hello when they see him in the community. 

For 17 years, Hill has served as director for the Vince Smith Campus Adolescent Residential Treatment. He is director of residential and Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) services for SalusCare. Vince Smith Center is the only residential substance use center for adolescents south of Tampa on Florida’s west coast. The program has been part of nonprofit SalusCare since 1990. It helps children between the ages of 13 and 17 with substance use diagnosis to combat addiction. 

We have kids who are now in their late 20s and early 30s with spouses, children and careers who are doing very well,” he says. “One individual went to FSU, has a career and is doing great. We have some kids who just come to the center to visit.” 

Need for Residential Substance Use Treatment among Adolescents 

The need for the 20-bed residential substance use treatment for adolescents center has increased over the years. According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, teen drug use is on the rise. Alcohol and marijuana are the most used substances. 

  • Drug use among 8th graders increased 61% between 2016 and 2020. 
  • By 12th grade, 62% of teenagers have abused alcohol. 
  • 50% of teenagers have misused a drug at least once. 
  • 86% of teenagers know someone who smokes, drinks, or uses drugs 
  •  during the school day. 

Isolation and lack of interaction, activities and resources intensified substance use disorders during COVID-19. A rise in gun violence has also increased mental health issues. 

“In 17 years, mental health conditions have definitely become more acute, with more acute diagnoses and more harmful substances,” Hill says. “Many teenagers have also experienced high level trauma.” 

In 2021, many adolescents reported adverse experiences. These included emotional abuse (55%), parental job loss (29%), hunger (24%), and physical abuse (11%). 

Hill knows there is a fine line between teenage experimentation with drugs and alcohol and substance use disorders. “Sometimes people turn a blind eye and attribute substance use to youth experimentation,” he says. “Unfortunately, there has also been a big shift to hands off parenting. Social media is not a great source of information. Kids are often left to their own devices, and teenagers are great at finding ways to get into trouble. But we are seeing it starting at younger and younger ages. The longer people use, the more it intensifies the addiction. We know the earlier we get to them, the better.” 

Hope for Hurting Teens 

For teenagers and families struggling, there is hope. The Vince Smith Campus Adolescent Residential Treatment program is a 90- to 180-day voluntary residential program. It requires family involvement and offers education through the Lee County School District, treatment and structure. 

Teenagers can come into the center in several ways. Families may make a direct referral. Others are referred through the department of juvenile justice, court system, other providers, Department of Children and Families and community service agencies. 

The program is paid for through insurance or a sliding fee scale based on income. 

“One of the good things that has changed over time is the understanding of what addictions are and how to treat them,” Hill says. “People think substance use is a disease of character and morality. But it’s a disease of the brain and changes the brain. Primary brain development occurs in adolescents. Kids from Vince Smith get tools that stay in the toolbox and can help them pull it together.” 

SalusCare’s Children’s Therapy Services offers Outpatient Therapy and Therapeutic Behavioral On-Site Services (TBOS) by clinicians who specialize in the treatment of children and adolescents. The Community Family Response Team (CFRT) is designed to serve children and their families experiencing increased stressors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a collaborative program through Lee County Schools and SalusCare.  

For information on SalusCare’s youth program, click here

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