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First Step IOP

About First Step IOP

Intensive Outpatient Program For Young People (14 - 22)

Potomac’s First Step IOP is for young people of all genders who are struggling with substance use and co-occurring issues that may include depression, anxiety, conflict at home with parents, and learning differences.

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

The theory behind First Step IOP, embraced by 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 due to their intertwined nature. Our clinicians use an evidence-based treatment model developed specifically for adolescents/young adults with substance use issues called The Seven Challenges.


  • Washington D.C. Area

How It Works

Comprehensive, Integrated Treatment Approach
First Step IOP services address major aspects of the young person's life including substance use, learning differences, family relationships, co-occurring depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

Family Involvement in Treatment
Research shows that involving parents in the young person's 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 older adults and adolescents.

Engaging and Retaining Young People 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 young person and the therapist, and between peers.

Qualified Staff
Our staff members are trained in adolescent and young adult development, co-occurring mental disorders, and substance use.

Gender and Cultural Competence
First Step IOP addresses the distinct needs of young people all genders and cultural backgrounds.

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 young person's life.

Who We Help

The First Step IOP is for young people (14 - 22) of all genders and cultural backgrounds. At Potomac, we recognize that young people need a non-confrontational and compassionate approach to substance abuse treatment in order to make progress with the life challenges they face.

What Do I Get

An initial assessment with the young person and parent(s) to determine the needs of the family and the young person in treatment.

Adventure Therapy
Group members attend one major outdoor adventure therapy event per month with clinician on board. Outdoor events have included mountain biking, treetop adventure courses, rock climbing, equestrian therapy, kayaking, caving, and more.

Young people attend early recovery and relapse prevention groups which include elements of experiential therapy, cognitive therapy, and motivational enhancement therapy. The group is geared to addressing issues that youth face in recovery, including:

  • How to manage high-risk and stressful situations
  • How to deal with old friends that are still stuck in unhealthy patterns
  • Increasing motivation for school and positive accomplishments
  • Communicating with parents and developing the skills to move through disagreements without relapsing into old behavior patterns
  • Understanding the relapse process and the signs and triggers of relapse and recovery

The early recovery and relapse prevention group helps create a supportive community where young people come in contact with others who are exuberant about life in recovery. Group members learn to listen deeply and to encourage one another to continue taking steps towards positive change and self-empowerment.

Individual + Family Counseling
Group members attend individual counseling to help increase motivation, support positive identity formation, identify addictive patterns and develop new, healthy strategies for living. Family counseling sessions are generally scheduled twice a month. Family counseling creates a space for deep listening, understanding and emotional healing—helping families to communicate honestly and openly without retreating into old negative patterns or “survival roles”.

Family Program
For the young people in First Step IOP, parents take part in a monthly Parent Support Group. Parents learn about the addiction cycle and impact of drugs and alcohol on the young person and the family. The program focuses on recognizing how parents can identify codependent (or enabling) behavior in the family, explore interactions and communication patterns, and practice new ways to engage the family in healthy patterns.

Recovery Meetings
Recovery meeting attendance is highly encouraged for most program participants during early recovery. There is a list of young people's 12 Step and SMART Recovery meetings on our Resources page.

Random Substance Use Testing
Random substance use testing on-site is included and billed to insurance. Specialized testing is available for drugs that do not show up on most screens including LSD, Mushrooms, Ritalin, Robitussin, and synthetic cannabinoids / "spice."

The First Step IOP is an 18-week program consisting of four months of primary treatment (which includes the evidence-based Seven Challenges IOP curriculum). The groups meet three evenings per week (Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, from 4:00 PM - 7:00PM). Weekend adventure therapy events are generally held on Saturdays once per month. Individual therapy sessions are held once a week and family sessions are held bi-weekly.

Most of our families are able to get the majority of the cost of clinical services covered by their insurance. Potomac is out-of-network with most private insurance carriers. We work with an insurance billing company that assists us in the process of rapidly checking benefits, authorizing treatment services, and re-authorizing services as needed.