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First Step IOP

Intensive Outpatient Program for teens and young adults


First Step IOP: A "whole-person" approach to recovery

Potomac Pathways' First Step program is for teens and young adults who are struggling with substance abuse and co-occurring issues which may include depression, anxiety, social anxiety, conflict at home with parents, ADHD and learning differences.

This level of care is for young people who have moderate issues in some or all of the following areas: substance abuse; low self-esteem or mood disorders (depression, anxiety, etc.); ADHD and/or significant learning differences; and conflict with their parents/family. The majority of young people that take part in our programs have significant issues in all of these domains.

The theory behind First Step IOP, now embraced by SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration), is that  young people need to be working on, and making progress with, all of these issues simultaneously, because of the intertwined nature of the problems. So, in other words, if you want to make progress with the substance abuse problem, you also have to be making progress with the depression, the low self-esteem, the school problems, and the problems that the teen is having at home.

At Potomac Pathways, we recognize that young people need to establish sobriety from drug and alcohol use first, in order to make progress with the other challenges they face.


First Step IOP: How the program works

First Step IOP exemplifies these "key elements in effective adolescent substance abuse treatment"  (Branningan, R. et al., 2004):

  • Comprehensive, Integrated Treatment Approach: First Step IOP services address major aspects of the adolescent’s life including substance abuse, learning differences, family relationships, co-occurring depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.
  • Family Involvement in Treatment: Research shows that involving parents in the adolescent’s drug treatment produces better outcomes. First Step IOP includes a high level of family involvement.
  • Developmentally Appropriate Program: Activities and materials reflect the developmental differences between adults and adolescents.
  • Engaging and Retaining Teens in Treatment: A strong therapeutic alliance is required for engaging and retaining young people (Winters et al., 2009; Diamond et al., 2006). First Step IOP builds a climate of trust between the adolescent and the therapist, and between peers.
  • Qualified Staff: Our staff members are trained in adolescent development, co-occurring mental disorders, substance abuse, and addiction.
  • Gender and Cultural Competence: First Step IOP addresses the distinct needs of adolescent boys and girls as well as cultural differences among minorities.
  • Continuing Care: First Step IOP includes relapse prevention, aftercare planning, referrals to community resources,and follow-up.
  • Treatment Outcomes: Rigorous evaluation to measure success, target resources, and improve treatment services.
  • Assessment and Treatment Matching: First Step IOP conducts comprehensive assessments that cover psychiatric, psychological, and medical problems, learning differences, family functioning, and other aspects of the adolescent’s life.