New Program to Treat Teen Marijuana and Alcohol Abusers

December 19, 2005

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – An outpatient adolescent substance abuse program is being developed at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center for treatment of area teen-agers with alcohol and marijuana problems.

Michael Dawes, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine and director of the new program, is a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist with additional training in addiction psychiatry. He has experience in assessing and treating adolescents with substance use problems.

The Adolescent Substance Abuse Program is also called ASAP, “because most parents feel overwhelmed about their adolescents’ substance use problems and want something done as soon as possible” to decrease their teen’s substance use, Dawes said.

The outpatient treatment program will include a multidisciplinary team of psychiatrists and therapists and a licensed clinical social worker. “The goal will be to individualize treatment for each adolescent and his or her family,” he said.

“Recent national findings show that most adolescents with drug-related problems do not receive treatment,” said Dawes. “In North Carolina in 2002, only 92 facilities offered services for adolescent substance abusers, reaching just 2,853 patients under 18 years old.

“We are creating this outpatient clinical program because few clinical resources exist in the Triad for substance-abusing adolescents and their families, and the existing resources are inadequate to meet the clinical need.”

Early treatment of marijuana abuse is important, he said, because today’s marijuana is more potent and potentially more toxic than the marijuana used in the 1960s and 1970s and may actually hinder or derail brain maturation.

“A goal for treatment will be to educate parents and their substance-using teens that there may be long-term effects of moderate to heavy cannabis use in terms of normal brain development,” Dawes emphasized. Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or marijuana are additional major concerns.

“There are also more subtle problems associated with early substance use: mild problems with focusing attention and memory, understanding spoken language, and making good decisions,” he said. “The sum of these cognitive deficits may affect things like school performance and making decisions as substance-using teens make the transition from adolescence to adulthood.”

The treatment program will begin in January 2006, and offer comprehensive individual assessments of psychiatric and substance use problems, and treatment that will include medication management and individual and family therapy over a 12-week period. The plan is to provide additional psychosocial and group therapy when a therapist and a licensed clinical social worker are hired in late spring 2006.

Substance-using adolescent patients will begin with a structured interview called the Global Appraisal of Individual Needs. The second part of the psychiatric assessment will be conducted by child and adolescent fellows under Dawes’s supervision or by Dawes himself.

Dawes and the fellows will treat the teens using therapies that have been shown to increase motivation to change and improve coping skills to decrease drug use, prevent relapse, and make friends who do not use drugs.

“A second goal for the clinic is to teach psychiatric residents and fellows how to help substance-abusing adolescents,” he said.

In addition, Dawes and his colleagues are doing research in substance-using adolescents at the Neurobehavioral Research Laboratory and Clinic, using a variety of tests to measure impulsive behavior, and its relationship to substance abuse and cognitive processes.

For more information on the treatment program, call 336-716-4551.


Media Contacts: Robert Conn,, Shannon Koontz,, or Karen Richardson,, at (336) 716-4587.

Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university’s School of Medicine. U.S. News & World Report ranks Wake Forest University School of Medicine 30th in primary care, 41st in research and 14th in geriatrics training among the nation's medical schools. It ranks 32nd in research funding by the National Institutes of Health. Almost 150 members of the medical school faculty are listed in Best Doctors in America.

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