Appointment Center (303) 436-4949

Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment

Denver Health STEP Program

Denver Health STEP Program

STEP Program (Substance Abuse Treatment Education & Prevention) for Adolescents

Established in 2004 with a generous grant from The Daniels Fund, the Denver Health STEP (Substance Abuse Treatment Education & Prevention) Program offers personalized mental health and substance abuse treatment for teens and young adults (ages 10-24). Using distinct, research-proven techniques, we collaborate with teenagers and youth to identify new approaches to life’s challenges and create the meaningful life they want to live.

Program Details and Amenities

The 12-week outpatient treatment program includes:

  • A comprehensive evaluation conducted by a therapist and board-certified child and addiction psychiatrist.
  • Motivational interviewing to encourage change in adolescents who are not initially interested in stopping their substance use. Motivational interviewing is an empathic, non-confrontational approach that motivates teens to make positive change. With motivational interviewing, our therapists align themselves with the positive goals and values of each adolescent. As treatment progresses, therapists help adolescents and their family members discern the discrepancy between current behaviors such as substance use.
  • Individual acceptance & commitment therapy. Using distinct, research-proven techniques, we collaborate with teenagers and youth to identify new approaches to life's challenges and create the meaningful life they want to live. We treat our clients individually as it allows us to tailor the therapy to meet the needs of each adolescent and his/her family; research shows that group treatment can do harm if adolescents learn negative behaviors from each other.
  • Parent Support & Family sessions. Family therapy involves meeting with parents to help their children maintain their sobriety. A positive relationship with one's parents is how teens learn to internalize the healthy values of their parents.
  • Integrated treatment for co-occurring Psychiatric disorders. Integrated care for psychiatric and substance abuse problems is provided to all adolescents from the outset. Most adolescents presenting for substance treatment have co-occurring psychiatric problems. Research shows that substance treatment is most successful when treatment is providing, not just for the substance abuse, but also the co-occurring psychiatric problems. For this reason, initial assessment are done with a therapist and a psychiatrist, who can provide medication management as necessary. Ongoing treatment is also designed to address co-occurring psychiatric problems.
  • Medication-assisted treatment, as needed. 
  • Prizes for clean urine drug screens. We practice contingency management, which means STEP rewards clean urine drug screens with prizes from our prize cabinet. This is one of the most effective ways to help teens achieve initial abstinence.
  • Case management. STEP therapists work hard to get adolescents involved in positive activities that promote long-term sobriety. Case management includes coordinating care with other agencies and providers.
  • Plan for continued sober living. Continuing care means that we ensure ongoing activities that maintain progress made while in treatment. People once thought that addiction was cured with treatment. We now know that for most people it is a life-long process that needs ongoing attention. For these reasons, we help teens and their families plan for ongoing success.

We accept most insurance carriers. STEP appreciates referrals and works regularly with schools, faith-based organizations, community groups and the juvenile justice system.

Download this STEP Program printable rack card to share with others.

Our Team

Substance Abuse Treatment Education & Prevention (STEP) Research

STEP also conducts clinical research that may result in effective, new treatments for adolescents and teens with substance abuse problems. Find out more about  STEP research projects.

Get Involved

Adolescent substance abuse affects all of us. Accidents, illness, high school drop out and violence related to substance use are costly. The good news is that prevention and treatment are very effective -- and research is producing better treatments for adolescent substance abuse and addiction.

Ways to help address the problems of youth substance use, abuse and addiction

  • Educate yourself and people you know about adolescent substance use. Valid information for parents, teachers and teens is available at the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA). NIDA’s mission is “to bring the power of science to bear on drug abuse and addiction,” and NIDA is the largest sponsor of addiction research in the world.
    • Christian Thurstone, medical director of the STEP Program, frequently speaks to community groups, schools, policymakers, elected officials and an array of nonprofit organizations nationwide. To invite him to speak, please email him.
  • Advocate for youth.Teens have developing brains that are more susceptible to addiction and more vulnerable to the harmful effects of substances than do adults, whose brains are fully mature. Many people are profiting from the exploitation of adolescents’ vulnerability to addiction. We, as a community, can significantly reduce teen substance use through advocacy that strictly limits young people’s access to substances, encourages and promotes negative views and attitudes about substance use and provides activities that encourage kids to channel their energy and interests into positive endeavors.
  • Donate. STEP was started with a generous donation from the Daniels Fund. The top-quality, individual, integrated care that STEP provides costs more than typical adolescent substance treatment. Such care would not be possible without generous, ongoing donations from our supporters. Contact the Denver Health Foundation for more information about how to donate to STEP.