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Many young-adult programs lack skill building for long-term success

October 1, 2012
by Charlene Marietti
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Ninety-day treatment programs for young-adult addicts improve on the prior 30-day standards but still pose challenges, the CEO of Utah-based Ascend Recovery said in a breakout session Sept. 30 at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD) in Orlando, Fla.

There are many problems with current industry-wide treatment models, said Ryan Salter, LCSW, whose organization’s target population consists of young adults ages 18 to 30 with opiate addiction. A six-month program featuring 90 days of treatment and 90 days of sober living often features little emphasis on reintegration into the community and inadequate support for developing skill sets for daily living, Salter said.

Overall, he said, most addiction therapy doesn’t establish certain goals to support long-term sobriety. Salter focused his remarks on his organization’s effort to establish a bridge level of care between highly structured residential and loosely organized sober living, and its work on improving clients’ executive functioning skills in areas such as problem-solving and attaining goals despite resistance.

Normal brain functions are severely affected by addiction, which interrupts development of the part of the brain governing executive functioning. Salter sees many similarities between autism spectrum disorders and brain functioning in the young addicted—and treatment potential too. “We can adopt the benefits of autism findings and effective treatments to treat addicted youth,” he said.

Care for other chronic diseases is typically long, much longer than for addiction. “We are preaching at people that this is a chronic disease, but our model is still in full transition,” Salter noted. “We have the time frame down, but we need to actually keep the treatment happening for this whole time and link the levels of care and the effectiveness of care.”