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Adolescent Mental Health Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Substance Abuse Treatment for Young People - What you need to know

Who is the information in this pamphlet for?

This pamphlet is for parents/guardians, relatives, teachers, friends and anyone who may be concerned about alcohol or other substance use in a person under 25.

What services are available for young people in the Greater Toronto Area?

Some young people may experiment with substances without requiring treatment. For young people who are experiencing problems as a result of alcohol or other substance use, there are a few different types of treatment:

Outpatient and day treatment are readily available in Toronto, and are generally the most appropriate type of help for young people. In some instances, more intensive treatment may be recommended. However, access to these other types of treatment is more limited.

Outpatient treatment means that a counsellor meets with a young person and/or the person’s family. The frequency of these meetings is decided between the counsellor and the young person or family. A few agencies provide services in the community, meeting young people and their families at home or another convenient location.

Day treatment programs take place daily from Monday to Friday, and usually consist of both school and group treatment with other young people. Most day treatment programs take at least eight weeks and can continue for up to one year or even more, depending on the program and the young person. Many programs also offer family counselling and one-on-one counselling.

Withdrawal management is needed when a young person needs to get a substance “out of his or her system” before being able to benefit completely from any other treatment program. At the moment, there are no youth-specific withdrawal management programs in the Greater Toronto Area. However, the Toronto Withdrawal Management System now provides some access to day and community withdrawal management services. Look for their contact information at the end of this pamphlet.

Residential treatment is more intensive treatment, for which a young person stays at a treatment facility 24 hours a day. These programs can last from 21 days to several months.

Recovery homes provide a safe, supportive living environment for people who have made changes in their lives with respect to substance use. Services provided include counselling, life skills training and help accessing community resources in preparation for independent living.

What services are available for young people with both mental health and substance use problems?

These services are called concurrent disorders programs. These programs specifically treat both the mental health and substance use problems.

Are these services free?

Most of the treatment types mentioned above are free of charge. Some require a valid Ontario health card.

Are these services private?

Young people are given the chance to speak with a counsellor alone. Counsellors respect a young person’s right to privacy.

Are these services voluntary?

All of the treatment programs mentioned here are voluntary.

What is harm reduction?

Harm reduction is an approach to working with young people that emphasizes safety, and aims to reduce the harm associated with alcohol and other substance use. It meets young people where they are, and does not demand that they stop using alcohol or other substances. It works with them to help them achieve whatever goals they have at the time. Harm reduction is about the young person’s choice, which can include reducing or stopping use.

Who can I contact in my area?

  • The Drug and Alcohol Registry of Treatment (DART) and Mental Health Service Information Ontario (MHSIO) can tell you about services for young people with substance use problems, mental health problems or a combination of both (concurrent disorders). These services include assessment services to determine the best type of treatment for the young person.
  • The Toronto Withdrawal Management System can help with withdrawal from alcohol and/or other substances. A counsellor will help you find the right location and type of withdrawal management services to suit the needs of the young person.
    • Toronto Withdrawal Management System: 1 866 366-9513
  • Community Connection supplies information about many different community resources, including agencies that provide assessment and treatment for young people with substance use problems or other concerns.
    • Community Connection: 211
  • CAMH’s Information Centre can provide information and support. They also have audio-taped messages about substances, substance use and mental health issues.
    • CAMH's Information Centre:
      1 800 463-6273 (in Toronto, call 416 595-6111)

This pamphlet was developed by the Toronto Youth Addiction Cluster, representing a number of agencies serving youth with substance use issues:

CAMH Switchboard 416-535-8501
CAMH General Information Toronto: 416-595-6111 Toll Free: 1-800-463-6273
Connex Ontario Help Lines
Queen St.
1001 Queen St. W
Toronto, ON
M6J 1H4
Russell St.
33 Russell St.
Toronto, ON
M5S 2S1
College St.
250 College St.
Toronto, ON
M5T 1R8
Ten offices across Ontario