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Residential Substance Abuse Program

The Seven Challenges is a comprehensive counseling program for adolescents with substance abuse problems and was listed in SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP). It is well suited for work with youth involved in the juvenile justice system and has been widely used in the community and in secure facilities across the country. The program is developmentally appropriate: Instead of dictating behavior to youth, it presents a decision-making model and helps young people make their own informed decisions about their direction in life and use of drugs.


In addition to drug problems, most youth in the juvenile justice system have co-occurring psychological problems, situational problems, and an assortment of life skills deficits. To address those diverse needs, The Seven Challenges program is holistic. Counselors serve as problem solving partners with youth – helping them deal with their underlying problems -- and teaching them life skills so they can have a life worth living without drugs. Once prepared in this way, youth are in a position to make informed decisions to quit using drugs.


The Seven Challenges program is fundamentally different from mainstream approaches to drug treatment that engage in what we call the “mad rush for abstinence.” With the mad rush, counselors talk incessantly about the harm of drugs, try to make youth decide to quit using, or coerce them into quitting, and then focus almost exclusively on relapse prevention. In response, youth typically lie or resist and fight back. Counseling in this manner begins to look like a series of arguments or a disingenuous encounter in which youth “tell the adults what they want to hear.” Eventually counselors teach youth who have not honestly decided to be drug free, how to be drug free. Some youth actually choose to quit using, but when the counseling narrowly focuses on the drug-use behavior without fully addressing the issues and needs that motivate the behavior, young people try to quit, but often fail. For them, this becomes yet another failure experience.

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