Tracking the long-term functioning of adolescents with alcohol problems

Standard treatment may not be enough for some adolescents with alcohol problems, say researchers.

While many adolescents reduce their alcohol use and have fewer related problems following treatment, a significant proportion continue to drink and/or use other drugs, have poor relations with family and friends, and experience academic problems. Scientists say that long-term studies of treated adolescents are essential for determining what impact treatment can have and what factors may change the severity of alcohol problems over time.

These findings, gathered from four studies of adolescents who were followed for one to eight years after treatment, were presented at a symposium during the joint June 2002 Research Society on Alcoholism/International Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism meeting in San Francisco. Symposium proceedings can be found in the February issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"We know very little about the impact that adolescent problem drinking has on academic achievement, relations with family and friends, and employment through young adulthood," said Tammy Chung, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and co-organizer of the symposium. "Longer-term studies can help us to understand how certain developmental milestones, such as full-time employment and independent living, affect the course of alcohol problems that begin in adolescence. Longer-term studies can also tell us which adolescents are most likely to continue or return to problem drinking, and how treatment can be improved to more effectively meet their specific needs."

Findings presented at the symposium included:

  • Treatment works for many teens. At least half of the adolescents studied showed reductions in alcohol use and problems following treatment, with concurrent improvements in psychosocial functioning.

  • Treatment needs can change. The sev


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