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Over much of the past decade, adolescent drug use either declined or leveled off. However, high school students are now reporting alarming increases in past-year use of some illicit drugs, such as marijuana and ecstasy.

At the same time, greater numbers of high school students are reporting that they agree with certain attitudes and behaviors that favor substance use; it is feared that these changes in attitude will lead to increased adolescent substance use in the future, especially since fewer adolescents are reporting exposure to drug prevention.

Using drugs for the first time during adolescence and continuing to use drugs during this important developmental time makes it more likely that the adolescent will become a chronic drug user as an adult.

Starting drug use early in life is also linked to adult criminal activity and higher rates of STDs / HIV.

Substance abusing adolescents of all ethnic and racial groups are more likely to engage in risky behaviors and are at greater risk for negative outcomes, as compared to non-substance abusing adolescents. For example, substance abusing adolescents are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors and to have higher rates of HIV and STIs.

A number of effective approaches have been developed to treat adolescent conduct and drug use problems. These interventions incorporate the findings of developmental research as well as family processes.

In working with minority adolescents and families, effective treatments also address culture-related variables and processes that acknowledge the important differences that exist between minority and non-minority populations. Early identification and treatment of emotional and behavioral problems is essential to changing a trajectory of deteriorating physical health, mental health, and family relationships. The longer these problems exist, the harder and more expensive they become to change.

Adolescent Treatment Program at El Centro

At El Centro, our approach to helping minority adolescent substance abusers and their families incorporates individual, family, and psycho-educational sessions that address culturally and socially significant content. Issues explored include parenting practices, acculturation and immigration stressors, drug use, risky sexual behavior, and motivation to change. Culturally Informed and Flexible Family Based Treatment for Adolescents (CIFFTA) has Structural Family Therapy as its family foundation, integrates Motivational Interviewing, and includes psycho-educational modules that build skills and increase readiness to change (e.g., parenting, drug education, risky sexual behavior, acculturation-related stressors). CIFFTA is delivered using a flexible, adaptive, and modular design that allows for tailoring of the intervention to the unique clinical and cultural characteristics of the family. Family therapy and some psycho-educational modules (acculturation) are delivered to individual families in a conjoint format. Individual treatment and certain psycho-educational modules (e.g., drug education) are delivered to the adolescent alone. Parenting modules are delivered to only parent figures of each individual family. Results of a randomized pilot study showed that CIFFTA led to statistically significant improvements in adolescent drug use and parenting practices.

Developed by Dr. Daniel Santisteban and Dr. Maite Mena, El Centro’s adolescent drug abuse prevention and treatment programs include three research studies focused on minority youth who suffer from depression, suicide risk, aggression/violence, ADHD, school failure, drug use, and the severe family conflicts that can result from these behaviors. Together these studies provide free treatment to minority families and help to identify the most effective ways of bringing about a successful treatment outcome.

  • “Preventing Health Disparities in Hispanic Youth: Changing Trajectories” is a 5-year study funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. This project provides treatment to 200 Hispanic youngsters 11-14 years of age who are struggling with depression, ADHD, conduct problems and family conflict. Treatment is offered over a 4-month period. This study is in the data analysis and dissemination phase and is no longer open to enrollment.
  • “A Culturally-Informed Tele-Intervention for Minority High-Risk Youth and their Parents” is a 2-year study funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. A culturally unique intervention for 11-to-15-year-old African American and Hispanic youth and their families, this program integrates a technology component into treatment. Families are provided a mini-laptop to access psycho-educational and health promotion videos on topics such as parenting and child mental health symptoms. The laptops are also used to communicate with counselors from home. This study is in the data analysis and dissemination phase and is no longer open to enrollment.
  • “Culturally-Informed Family-Based Adolescent Treatment: A Randomized Trial” is a 5-year study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This project provides treatment to Hispanic youngsters 14-17 years of age who already struggle with substance use problems. Treatment is offered over a 4-month period. This study is currently open to enrollment.

All of our adolescent treatment studies are funded by the National Institutes of Health to:
  • Create innovative treatment programs that are effective at helping adolescents and families.
  • Address the unique stressors faced by Hispanic and African American youth and families.
  • Provide state-of-the-art treatment to our Miami-Dade County community at no charge for youth and families eligible to participate.
  • Evaluate the program’s effectiveness and continuously strive to improve services to the community.
  • Please click here for publications detailing the outcomes of El Centro’s adolescent treatment programs.

Our state-of-the-art programs are based on the best research evidence accumulated by our team over the 25 years that we have been working with kids and families in South Florida communities. This work includes articulating what “cultural competence” should look like in counseling.

To date our active programs have served almost 300 adolescents and families from our public schools and partner community agencies. Families and community partners have participated not only in the treatment and research activities but also in focus groups to help our team shape interventions. Community partners have included: