Teen intervene

Teen Intervene is an evidence-based program that focuses on the early detection and intervention of substance abuse. The Teen Intervene program consists of a brief intervention administered in two to three one-hour long sessions with the teen and his or her family. The sessions are individualized to the specific needs of the teen, but focus on positive behavior change, harm reduction, and ultimately abstinence from substance use with a grounding in stages of change theory, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and motivational interviewing.

Teen Intervene is the intervention method of choice when the potential for a future substance abuse problem has been identified. It is most appropriate for teens who are in the early stages of substance use or who are demonstrating mild to moderate problems with substance use. Teen intervene is not indicated for teens who use alcohol or drugs on a daily basis, are showing signs of dependence on drugs or alcohol, or who have a serious untreated psychiatric disorder.

Teen intervene vs. Teen court

The Teen Intervene model should not be confused with Teen Court. Although both programs are beneficial in reducing substance abuse among middle and high school aged youth, they are very different.

Teen Court is most appropriate when the substance use problem has progressed beyond casual use, has been a factor in repeated offenses, or when the individual has reached the stage of addiction. Often there are also other criminogenic factors involved that determine whether Teen court is appropriate.

Caution should be used when making a referral for Teen Court. If a child has not reached the Teen Court stage and is placed in the program inappropriately through an inaccurate evaluation, the potential for a stigma to develop does exist.

Capacity building/stakeholder engagement

Because Teen Intervene is focused on early detection and intervention, it is very important to include a broad spectrum of stakeholders in all stages of the evaluation and treatment process. Ideally this would include parent(s) or guardian(s), in addition to school representatives such as teachers, coaches, and guidance counselors.

A multi-disciplinary team that is available to the teen and his or her parents is beneficial in many ways. It provides the teens with multiple options when determining who they would feel comfortable participating with in the program. In order for the process to truly be effective, active involvement by all parties is essential. Therefore, buy-in regarding the intervention roadmap should be adopted by the child, parent/guardian and facilitator(s).

When addressing the youth’s actions and behaviors with the responsible adults, empathy and tact must be utilized. In order to take corrective measures, the root causes of the respective targeted actions and behaviors must also be identified. Ongoing facilitator training, support, and review is essential. It is important to view each case as a series of teachable moments. This encourages all parties involved to become part of the solution, rather than remain a part of the problem.


Teen Intervene is easily sustainable because it can be implemented in a rural, impoverished community setting without the need for additional resources. It is an evidence-based method in which existing professionals in the community can be trained to administer in a cost-effective manner. The program also calls for family involvement, which ultimately results in a self-check by those involved in the youth’s life.


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