Identifying strengths in youths at substance use treatment admission

Maria E. Pagano, Nadia M. Raj, Christine Rhodes, Amy R. Krentzman, Michelle Little

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: Clinicians have been required to assess client strengths at substance use treatment admission for two decades. Yet little is known about identified strengths in this population that could make it easier for clients to accept having this illness. Objectives: This study explored the profile of clients’ strengths and whether strengths varied by background characteristics and constructive use of time. Methods: Data were collected with validated instruments at treatment admission. Substance dependent youths (N = 195, 52% female, aged 14–17, 30% minority), their legal guardians, and admission counselors completed an open-ended prompt about client strengths. Qualitative responses of identified strengths were coded by theme. Univariate comparisons linked count of identified strengths and patient characteristics. Results: Youths had an average of three identified strengths (SD = 1.99) at admission, and 9% did not identify any strengths. Interpersonal strengths were most prevalent (73%), followed by generic intelligence (45%), and grit (31%). Female gender, not having a parent with a high school diploma, narcotic dependence, and shorter duration of consecutive days sober were associated with fewer strengths. Conclusion: Highly sociable, hard-working, and smart were prominent strengths in the sample. Each day sober corresponded with more identified strengths, which may encourage those in early recovery. Identifying strengths can help clients find meaningful sober recreation and may be particularly useful tools for girls and those with low parental education. Developing standards for using identified strengths in treatment planning and consensus on the taxonomy of strengths are topics for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)410-420
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 4 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism [K01 AA015137];John Templeton Foundation [#27997]

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, © 2019 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.


  • Substance use disorders
  • adolescents
  • assessment
  • strengths
  • talents
  • treatment plan


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