The Seven Challenges® Program

Intervention Basics

The Seven Challenges® Program works with adolescents from where they are at with their usage, and not where their families and counselors WISH them to be. Counselors create a climate of mutual respect, which allows the adolescents to communicate openly and honestly about themselves and how their behavior affects, not only themselves, but also those around them (i.e., family members; peers). The program was designed to equally address drug and mental health problems. Counselors help youth who are initially reluctant to admit to drug problems by helping them acknowledge problems with the authorities that involve drugs and by providing assistance in maintaining abstinence. The program teaches decision-making through seven prescribed challenges during the treatment process. 

The Seven Challenges are:

  • We decided to open up and talk honestly about ourselves and about alcohol and other drugs.
  • We looked at what we like about alcohol and other drugs, and why we were using them.
  • We look at our use of alcohol and other drugs to see if it had caused harm or could cause harm.
  • We looked at our responsibility and the responsibility of others for our problems.
  • We thought about where we seemed to be headed, where we wanted to go, and what we wanted to accomplish.
  • We made thoughtful decisions about our lives and about our use of alcohol and other drugs.
  • We followed through on our decisions about our lives and drug use. If we saw problems, we went back to earlier challenges and mastered them.

The Seven Challenges program can be beneficial for adolescents who are dealing with co-occurring disorders and successful when counselors work as problem-solving partners rather than agents of authority who are enforcing punishments. 

Expectations of Sessions: 
Sessions are not pre-scripted but are tailored to the individual's needs. There is an expectation that family be involved in the treatment process and that counselors communicate regularly with other professionals involved in the young person's life. Counseling sessions have been implemented in several different formats: outpatient, intensive outpatient, inpatient, residential, day treatment, partial care and home-based programs. The intervention has been used in public and private schools, treatment schools, drug courts, juvenile probation departments, and public and private juvenile justice facilities.

Recommended Populations

  • Youth ages 13 - 17
  • Girls & Boys
  • Co-occurring Disorders
  • Tribal, Hispanic/Latino, African American, Asian and Caucasian youth and their families
  • Several Treatment Settings 

Special Considerations for Juvenile Drug Courts

There is no pre-set time in treatment or minimum/maximum number of sessions. All treatment is individualized and wrapped around the needs of the youth and family. This makes the program attractive to many JDCs since the length of treatment is not pre-determined and can continue as long as needed. That being said, JDC teams need to be comfortable with the fact that treatment may end before the youth has completed all of the JDC program components. This is a difficult transition for the team to sometimes make, as their expectation can be generally stated in this way – “if a youth is participating in drug court, they need to be in treatment of some kind.” In some cases, courts have been known to have the youth simply repeat the treatment modality. JDC teams need to be cautious about over-treating adolescents. A better option would be for the JDC to provide Seven Challenges peer-led support groups for youth who have completed treatment and perhaps for those nearing completion. Always keep in mind that treatment providers should drive the treatment plan, which is then supported by the court – not the other way around. 

Engagement Strategies

JDC teams will need to put extra time and effort into engaging the community, if the team and program utilizes Seven Challenges. Community mapping should be a regular activity among team members to compile a useful list of youth and family related services; especially if the youth completes treatment before he/she completes the drug court program, as the team will need to connect the youth to other pro-social activities in the community and Seven Challenges support groups, all in an effort  to support and  build independence and keep the youth occupied in sober activities.  

Implementation and Training

Please contact Sharon Conner, Director of Program Services for The Seven Challenges, at (520) 405-4559 or Visit The Seven Challenges' website to learn more about the intervention.  
For more detailed information regarding research and replications associated with Seven Challenges, visit: