Treatment of adolescent addiction topic of international conference at UCalgary

The Faculty of Nursing hosted an important conference last week on advances in adolescent addiction treatment. Co-sponsored with the University of Maryland School of Public Health, the day-and-a-half conference brought together Canadian and U.S. researchers, clinicians, policymakers and community leaders to lend their insight into the different ways we support youth and families with addiction.

A main purpose behind the conference was to publicize the results of an outcome study, completed over five years (2008 to 2013), of client and families of the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre (AARC). At the time of the study, Jacqueline Smith, RN, PhD, UCalgary conference organizer and assistant professor in the faculty, was a clinician at AARC and served as a consultant on the project.

“This conference reaffirmed the necessity of support for families amid addiction,” says Smith whose doctoral research explored the impact of addiction on the family through the lens of a mother. Her current research includes a feasibility study that is exploring the effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on parents of youth with substance use disorders.

Several of the international speakers referenced the upcoming legalization of cannabis in Canada, which opened up the opportunity for Smith to introduce the University of Calgary’s Campus Experience with Cannabis Survey, launched in late March.

“Canadian youth have the highest rates of usage in the western world,” explains Smith, who is principal investigator of this study. “We want to survey our students, pre-legalization, to understand how they perceive the risk and what services they would access if their use became problematic.”

The survey went to 4,000 UCalgary students, asking questions about their experience with cannabis. Early responses indicate that 52 per cent of those students have used cannabis — and just over 10 per cent have used for medicinal purposes.

“We hope to use our results to inform existing or new student wellness initiatives on UCalgary campus,” says Smith, “and also create a larger Canadian longitudinal prospective study that will follow a cohort of students across several Canadian campuses during this important shift in Canadian drug policy. It will place our university in a leading position to inform cannabis campus policy across our country.”

Other discussion points at the conference included evidence-based practices and the latest scientific evidence on effective components of adolescent drug treatment; resources and supports for adolescents in recovery in Alberta, including the importance of 12-step programs; current issues regarding substance use and the youth justice system; and challenges posed by the increasing availability of cannabis.

“Complex problems such as adolescent addiction (and its impact on the family) require complex solutions,” says Smith. “Research that continues to inform comprehensive interventions for youth and families will be critical to the advancement of treatment for adolescents suffering from addiction.”

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