Youth...on the brink of success: Youth Addictions...

The problem of youth addiction is highly complex, often tied to multigenerational poverty, sexual abuse (frequently connected to sex trade involvement), and other health and nutritional problems. Saskatoon Communities for Children (SCC) is an organization that seeks to aid marginalized children and their families. Together with Addiction Services-Outpatient and the Saskatoon Tribal Council, SCC created the Youth Addiction Project (YAP) in 2003 to achieve four general goals: (1) provide youth with employment, job skills, and access to community networks; (2) improve relations between youth and addictions workers; (3) educate youth and service providers about each other’s perspectives and needs; and (4) develop a stakeholder-approved plan to support vulnerable children, thereby increasing the likelihood of its implementation. Wendy MacDermott’s interim report, Youth Addictions Project, details initial efforts to establish a foundation to achieve these objectives.

The project’s youth coordinators examined research literature on youth addictions, particularly that which pertains to alternative treatments. Among the findings were:

  • most research on youth and addictions focused on those aged 16 years and older;
  • few or no treatment options exist for those under 16 years of age;
  • females are more likely to use treatment services and tend to have a higher frequency of successful participation in a variety of treatment settings;
  • court-ordered treatment tends to be ineffective because the process is involuntary; and
  • the longer the intervention (e.g. 3 months) the more likely the success, and follow up and ongoing support are crucial (after intense/residential treatment).

Research was also conducted on innovative treatment options that would be youth friendly, informal, and empowering. These include: acupuncture; art and music therapy; Shamanic healing; angel meditation; chakra healing using meditation and breathing exercises; aromatherapy; animals and totems; traditional Aboriginal healing (e.g. medicine wheel); stones and crystals; and herbs.

Team members also regularly attended and hosted workshops on addictions issues. These provide opportunities for youth coordinators to conduct some initial research into addictions issues and practice public speaking/facilitation skills. The team has also approached several youth addiction organizations to organize “orientation” placements for the youth coordinators to help them better understand current treatment options and to educate service providers on youth’s unique needs.

A series of surveys were conducted with youth, parents, and service providers to discern: those elements most and least effective with youth; demographic characteristics of youth clients; staff perceptions of youth clients’ most pressing needs; appropriate and inappropriate responses to these needs; and barriers to implementing ideal support options. A youth forum held in October 2003 further provided youth feedback. Initial results have already achieved valuable results. For example, several organizations have come forward and offered to establish Alcoholics Anonymous groups for their clientele. Another promising idea is to have addictions information placed in doctors’ offices because many doctors unknowingly provide the drugs abused by youth. YAP’s hope is to balance the immediate benefits to the community with the development of a long-term plan to help with the prevention, treatment, and recovery of youth facing addictions.

MacDermott, Wendy. (2005). Youth...on the brink of success: Youth Addictions Project. Saskatoon: Community-University Institute for Social Research.