A New Program at Mission Hospital Helps Teens with Alcohol, Drug and Emotional
Problems with a Customized Solution
Debbie Hutchinson, Psy.D., manager of Outpatient
Behavioral Health Programs and the Psychiatric Emergency Team at the Laguna Beach campus of
Mission Hospital, recounts the story of a young teenage girl who told her she had a little
flask of alcohol that she brought to school, not only for herself but
to pass around among her other middle school friends too.
Though the kids were not getting drunk, they were experiencing—at
an age when their brains were still developing—the alluring effects
of alcohol. The door was opened to a path that leads many teenagers to
excessive drinking and all the dangers of impaired judgment that go with it.
Hutchinson has a lot of compassion and understanding about teens and their
troubles—she heads the Center for Adolescent Mental Health and Family
Wellness at Mission Hospital in Laguna Beach. The Center is the first
hospital-based, dual-diagnosis treatment program in south Orange County,
designed to help local teenagers with alcohol and drug problems, as well
as depression, anxiety, eating disorders or other emotional issues.
Who is at risk?
The myth has been shattered that only low-income, inner-city teens are
“New research shows that kids from suburban, affluent families are
at high risk,” says Hutchinson. Pressure to achieve academically
can create stress that kids try to relieve chemically. But emotional and
physical isolation from their parents contributes too.” Many well-off
parents work long hours, don’t eat meals with their families and
don’t know what their teens are up to.
And of course, kids who have money can buy drugs and alcohol more easily
than those who don’t.
Hutchison says there is a great need for treatment of troubled teenagers
in Mission Hospital’s service area, adding that many Orange County
mental health professionals are pleased this program exists, as many teens
need more help than once-a-week therapy sessions.
The Mission Hospital program that Hutchinson manages provides group psychotherapy
that includes the 12-step approach, individual sessions for the adolescents,
family unit sessions, multi-family sessions, and a parenting program.
This is key because depression and other emotional problems often drive
the drinking and drugging.
“Teens don’t drink for no reason at all,” says Hutchinson.
“Depression, a pressure to perform, challenges within family, being
ostracized in peer group—there can be multiple issues that lead
kids to try to cope by using alcohol or drugs.”
Noticing the clues
Hutchinson’s program is available for teens who come in on their
own or are referred by a parent, teacher or other professionals.
“Parents who notice something’s going on with their teen might
not know what to do,” she says. “You should ask, ‘Is
my child starting to act differently? Are the grades slipping? Is my child
hanging out with a different group?’ These are clues that a teenager
might be having a drug or alcohol problem.”
Very often larger family issues are at play—including parents with
untreated alcohol and drug abuse problems of their own—which is
why Hutchinson’s on-staff team includes a licensed marriage and
Hutchinson’s role is to help to determine best treatment for each
teen and family. “We want to work with professional partners in
the community so when parents call we can connect them to the right resources,” she says.
(This story originally appeared in OC Catholic, 1/15/2016)