The Centre for Substance Abuse Research has just published a study on effective methods for getting young people off drugs. The study shows that motivational interviewing and cognitive therapy, combined with attendance vouchers, reminders and follow-up treatment, have the best results in keeping young people in drug treatment drug-free. It also highlights that the methods are less effective when used alone. The study is based on data on 1181 young people who have been in outpatient treatment for light substance abuse in nine municipal addiction centres from 2014-2016.

The report shows that significant barriers to achieving drug-free living are psychiatric diagnoses, severe externalising and internalising problems, the effects of bullying, being a long-term recipient of cash benefits, being friends with or living with people with substance use challenges, sleep disorders and persistent physical problems. For example, a young person with psychiatric diagnoses, who has been on long-term cash assistance, who has few abusive friends and who is experiencing physical problems may be more difficult to help out of a drug addiction. On the other hand, if young people have no complex externalising or internalising challenges, a stable schooling and live with both parents, they have a high chance of achieving drug-free life.

Young people with a massive addiction and complex life challenges (e.g. mental disorders, cognitive impairments, violence, abuse issues and social problems) are not the focus of this study, and this is precisely the target group for the residential treatment at Alfa-Fredensborg. For this reason, the recommendations cannot be transferred 100 percent to our context. Our young people not only need therapy, reminders and gift cards, but also need to work out mental challenges in cooperation with psychiatry, physical challenges in cooperation with the doctor and to work employment-oriented (e.g. with educational institutions, companies and job centres) and expand their social networks.

Jørgen Maltesen, director of Alfa-Fredensborg, points out that the study is interesting because it shows not only that motivational interviewing and cognitive therapy are effective tools in working with young people, but also that motivational work and the retention of young people are crucial to the success of treatment: “At Alfa-Fredensborg, one of our most important tasks is to keep young people in treatment through close relational and motivational work and the butterfly system, which rewards young people for good behaviour by giving them more privileges if they comply with their duties and responsibilities.”

Alfa-Fredensborg is currently launching two projects to support young people to lead drug-free lives. With funding from the Social Fund for Children and Young People, we are starting up a self-help group for Alfa’s young people, so that they can have a strong alcohol and drug-free community, and with support from the National Board of Health and Welfare, we can offer young people who have previously been placed with Alfa-Fredensborg and who are not receiving aftercare, follow-up talks and contact person support until October 2018.