Ann Achille, manager of The Providence Center’s Adolescent Partial Hospital and Intensive Outpatient Treatment programs, is a licensed mental health counselor and licensed chemical dependency clinical supervisor.
Achille received degrees in psychology from Providence College and Rhode Island College and a certificate of advanced graduate study in mental health counseling from Rhode Island College. She has been an employee of the Providence Center for the last 23 years and has worked with adults, children and adolescents.
PBN: Officials have repeated the fact that addiction afflicts a cross section of society. Is this also the same for the teen population?
ACHILLE: Yes, it is true for adolescents as well. In treatment programs at the Providence Center, we provide services to adolescents from diverse ethnic backgrounds and from various communities within the state. Recent data from Rhode Island Kids Count supports this fact as well with its survey outcomes. Survey results at the high school level show similar percentages of substance use among different ethnic groups, as well as across different school communities.
PBN: What difference have you observed between young and old substance abuse patients?
ACHILLE: One concerning difference between someone who begins substance use as a teen versus someone who may begin use as an adult is the impact on the developing brain. During adolescence, brain regions associated with problem-solving and emotional functioning, including the prefrontal cortex, also known as the executive functioning area of the brain, continue to undergo changes and development. Substance use at a time when the brain is still changing and growing presents more risk for cognitive deficits and mood disorders, in comparison to the fully developed adult brain.
PBN: How strong a role do peers play in a teen’s recovery compared to family?
ACHILLE: Family is always an important part of a teen’s support system. However, adolescence is a time when teens are developing a sense of identity, learning about relationships, and building problem-solving and life skills, and much of that is done in the context of peer relationships.
Wanting to be accepted by peers and belong to a peer group are also part of adolescent development. Teens who are in recovery but spend time with friends who are still using substances can struggle more with peer pressure, triggers for continued use and potential relapse. Having a sober peer support system is vitally important for a teen’s recovery.
The Providence Center will be opening the state’s first recovery center for adolescents early next year, in order to help teens build a network of peers in recovery.
PBN: What is the most common and/or detrimental misconception about teens struggling with addiction?
ACHILLE: One of the most common misconceptions about teens and addiction is related to age. Many people mistakenly believe that adolescents can’t get addicted or won’t get addicted because they are too young, and that addiction only happens to adults. This is detrimental, as it may cause teens or family members to minimize or discount the warning signs of addiction or delay getting treatment for a teen. Many teens may not realize that the behavior patterns they are developing now are setting the stage for addiction.
PBN: What’s your suggestion for the best thing people can do to help?
ACHILLE: It brings to mind the quote, “It takes a village.” Reducing the risk of adolescent substance use and addiction is something to which everyone can contribute, from family members to legislators, teachers, coaches, spiritual leaders and community advisers.
I would encourage anyone connected to teens to be aware of the risks related to adolescent substance use and understand that teens can and do get addicted. To parents, I would say keep the lines of communication open. Many parents feel that their teens don’t want to spend time with them; however, teens do want to have good relationships with parents. Be aware of how your adolescent is spending free time and who their peer group is.
For teachers and coaches, be available and willing to listen. School can be a place that is filled with stress and anxiety for any teen, and having a positive mentor in the school setting can make a difference for an adolescent.
For those in our legislature, be mindful of the ways in which decisions and laws can impact teens’ perceptions of substance use.
Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Borkowski@PBN.com.