A Unique Approach to Addictive Behavior

Montana Academy’s unique approach makes sense of substance abuse and other “addictive” behaviors e.g. compulsive technology use, video-gaming, disordered eating, and sexual promiscuity as attempts to distract attention—within a developmental context. Engaging in these actions are viewed as repetitive attempts to dispel the dysphoria of shallow or chaotic interpersonal relationships as well as compulsively repeated efforts to forget an individual’s shortcomings within the normative academic and social tasks of adolescence.


A Cross Relationship

In this way, psychological immaturity and adolescent addictive behaviors are cross-related, the one often the occasion for the other.  Stopping the use of mind-altering substances (or other psychologically distracting compulsive behaviors) becomes a critical first step in any effort to remedy adolescent immaturity.  But also, the achievement of maturity and developmental momentum has to be a critical goal in any definitive treatment, or prevention, of addiction.

The Assessment Process

For these reasons, every entering student receives a thorough assessment.  All students take an introductory course to learn about addiction and compulsive distractions.  Those students who have demonstrated that they are at future risk will join an intensive therapy group specifically designed for adolescents with these issues.  This group helps young people recognize and come to terms with the implications of relying upon mind-altering substances or processes to falsely and ineffectually achieve the developmental tasks of forming age appropriate coping skills, a sense of identity, independence, and maturity.

Prevention Plans

The intensive Addiction Studies program compliments the four regular weekly group therapy sessions in which students participate at Montana Academy, and lasts one to two semesters depending upon the depth of a student’s issues. Once the introductory and more in-depth courses of study are completed, students enter a process of writing relapse prevention plans.  Because this program is specifically designed for adolescents, special emphasis is placed on the social aspects and implications of relapse prevention.  Ultimately, relapse prevention involves a grieving process as adolescents realize the necessity of letting go or seriously redefining a number of peer relationships. Letting go takes time and meaningful support.  


The heart of this approach is a recognition that addictions emerge from developmental struggles.  For instance, teenagers who are insecurely attached emotionally to important others discover that drugs temporarily provide a reliable surrogate. Or again, if a teenager struggles to achieve normal separation from his or her nuclear family, or experiences significant anxiety in an attempt to individuate, then video games provide a seemingly safe alternative world, where interpersonal difficulties can be resolved. Teenagers who deal drugs, or share them, or join others in “virtual” relationships online, are pretending to be grown up, and may feel strong and effective, but actually are not engaging in effective and close relationships.  

Sustained Treatment

Conventional treatment often fails to take account of a teenager’s need to prop up a shaky, false sense of autonomy and fails to address these underlying developmental difficulties.  Success (sobriety, or self-disciplined use) requires a sustained treatment which interrupts addictive cycles but also propels onward the development of psychological maturity.  Sound decisions require adult perceptions of the world, and one’s place in the world. Such perceptions come from the give and take of reciprocal relationships.  A student’s sustained experience at Montana Academy helps them to practice, and to acquire self-understanding, and to practice social decision-making and close relationships.

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