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Treatment & Drug Rehab for Teens

Written By
Chris Elkins, M.A.
This page features
6 Cited Research Articles

Rehab is a vital component of the recovery process for teens with substance use disorders. Detox helps adolescents overcome cravings and withdrawal in a safe environment, and therapy teaches teens healthy ways to cope with stress and everyday difficulties. With help from addiction specialists, teens can recover from addiction and live happy and productive lives.

25% of teens who used an addictive substance before they were 18 became addicted.

Children and teens are more vulnerable than adults to alcohol and drug addiction. Research shows that the younger someone is exposed to drugs, the more likely they are to develop a substance use disorder — the medical term for addiction. An estimated 90 percent of Americans who have a substance use disorder began smoking, drinking or using illicit drugs before they were 18 years old.

A 2011 study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that 25 percent of teens who used an addictive substance before they were 18 became addicted. Only 4 percent of adults who used an addictive substance when they were 21 or older became addicted.

If you’re a teenager and you’re using addictive substances such as cigarettes, alcohol or marijuana, your brain is adapting to the drugs. It’s building a tolerance to them, meaning you’ll require more drugs to feel the same effects. It’s becoming dependent on them, meaning you’ll crave the substances or experience withdrawal if you stop using them suddenly.

If you’ve experienced any symptoms of addiction, such as cravings, withdrawal or a compulsive desire for the substances, you may have a substance use disorder. If you’ve been unable to quit using drugs on your own, resources are available to help you.

Continuing to use alcohol and other drugs will make the cravings and withdrawals worse when you stop. And the longer you keep using, the more difficult it is to stop. Rehab will help you overcome addiction, learn to be happy without addictive substances and begin a path toward a successful future.

How Do I Know If I Need Rehab?

After using an addictive substance, most people feel an urge to use it again. That’s natural because alcohol, marijuana and other drugs contain addictive chemicals. That doesn’t mean you need rehab, though.

If you feel the urge but you’re able to keep yourself from using, you probably don’t have a substance use disorder. People who have addictions are unable to stop drinking or using on their own. They’re constantly thinking about drinking or using, and triggers such as stress or anxiety make them crave alcohol or other drugs.

You can look for a number of warning signs to determine if you or a friend is addicted to alcohol or other drugs.

Warning signs for addiction include:

If you have more than one of those warning signs, you should seek help from a counselor, doctor or therapist. They’ll determine whether you truly have a substance use disorder and the best way to help you recover.

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When It’s Time for Help

It can be hard to admit that you’re addicted. The most common reaction is denial. Before asking for help, most teens try to quit on their own. If you’ve tried to quit on your and haven’t been able to, it’s probably time to ask for help.

Other signs that you need help include hanging out with people you aren’t comfortable with, letting your grades drop, getting in trouble at school, getting in trouble with police or feeling intensely sad or lonely. If it’s gotten to that point, you should tell your parents about your concerns. If you can’t do that, there are other supportive resources available.

Finding Support

There are numerous addiction resources for teens. If you feel like you can’t tell your parents that you think you’re addicted, you can ask to see a doctor or therapist to discuss other health concerns. Doctors and therapists can’t legally tell your parents or police that you’ve used alcohol or other drugs unless they believe you may be at risk for harming yourself. They can start a treatment plan for you or direct you to resources in your community to help you.

If you can’t get to the doctor or a therapist, you should be able to find support groups in your community. Many cities have Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings for teens. If your parents misuse alcohol or other drugs, you may benefit from attending Alateen meetings. Support group meetings are helpful for some people, but they aren’t for everyone. If that doesn’t work for you or if you think you have a severe addiction, it’s time to go to rehab.

Being Honest

You need to be honest with yourself if you have multiple warning signs for addiction and you haven’t been able to quit on your own. Your parents may be upset at first, but parents want what’s best for their kids. They love you and want you to get better. Be honest with them and your friends. Some friends may not be supportive, but your true friends will want to see you get the help you need.

Going to rehab doesn’t mean you’ve failed at anything. It means you have a disease, and you need treatment. The best way to overcome addiction is to fully commit to changing your life for the better. It means listening to health professionals and participating in therapy. With those commitments, you’ll be on track for a happy life.

Finding a Drug Rehab Center for Your Teen

Your doctor or therapist should be able to recommend a certified rehab facility near you, but some communities don’t have facilities that cater to teenagers. Teen rehab facilities, such as the Next Generation Village in Sebring, Florida, treat people between 12 and 17 years old.

Teen facilities often offer opportunities for adolescents to continue their education so they don’t fall behind on classes. Some clinics employ tutors to help teens with schoolwork during treatment.

Education is important, but recovery should be your top priority. Make sure you find an accredited facility that provides the appropriate level of treatment and prepares you for a life in recovery.

Types of Rehab for Teens

The goal of addiction treatment is to help patients overcome addiction, avoid relapse and prepare for life after treatment. Rehab includes different phases of treatment, and each phase has different goals.

Image of teens holding hands in the air


The purpose of detox is to rid the body of addictive substances so the brain can focus on counseling and therapy. Health professionals can ease many symptoms of withdrawal, but detox isn’t an enjoyable experience. That’s why it’s better to detox in a rehab facility, where a staff is dedicated to helping you feel as comfortable as possible, than to try to stop using on your own.

Inpatient vs. Outpatient

After detox, a physician or therapist will help you determine whether you need inpatient (residential) or outpatient treatment. Adolescents with severe substance use disorders often stay in inpatient treatment for at least 30 days before transitioning to outpatient therapy. Teens with less severe addictions may be able to attend outpatient therapy if they have strong support systems at home.

The advantage of inpatient treatment is that you’re surrounded by people committed to staying sober, you have access to multiple recovery programs during the day and you’re in an environment free of triggers or peer pressure that can lead to relapse. The advantage of outpatient treatment is that you can often continue to go to school, participate in extracurricular activities and have access to supportive friends and family.

During inpatient and outpatient treatment, you’ll attend individual and group counseling sessions and educational programs that help you learn life skills and avoid relapse. Most of the time, you’ll have access to 12-step meetings or spiritual-based support groups.

Next Generation Village

Our young adult rehab facility treats teens 13 - 17 years old in a safe, secure environment with comfortable surroundings. Our staff at Next Generation Village provides expert guidance throughout the treatment process and our amenities provide the best possible environment to help teens heal.

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Co-Occurring Disorders

Mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, can complicate the rehab process. Sometimes these conditions exist before the substance abuse starts. Other times, alcohol and other drugs cause mental health disorders.

Either way, mental health disorders and substance use disorders have to be treated simultaneously. Patients who don’t receive treatment for both disorders have a high rate of relapse. Facilities that specialize in treating co-occurring disorders develop individualized treatment plans that help teens overcome addiction and cope with the symptoms of their mental health condition.

Therapeutic Approaches for Teens

In many ways, addiction treatment for teens is similar to treatment for adults. Each population undergoes detox, counseling and group therapy. The principles of learning to cope with stress, avoiding triggers and accessing support are the same. But the therapeutic techniques used to achieve the goals are often different.

Counseling and Therapy

Research indicates that some therapeutic techniques used during adult treatment are effective on teens.

Those techniques include:

Other counseling techniques seem to be more effective with adolescents than adults. Many of these techniques are most effective with teens who live in unsatisfactory family environments.

These techniques include:

Counseling and therapy are necessary for teens to learn to live without alcohol or other drugs. It prepares youth to re-enter school or the community and to handle stress and other risk factors for relapse.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Physicians can prescribe medications that help ease withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings and diminish the appeal of alcohol or drug use. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved medication-assisted treatments for people younger than 18 because little research has been conducted on the safety and efficacy of the drugs in adolescents.

Still, physicians can legally prescribe medications for teens affected by addiction. In August 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended expanded research, access and use of medications for adolescents with opioid use disorders.

Medications for opioid use disorders include:

The FDA label for products containing buprenorphine states that it is not recommended for patients 16 years old and younger, but one short study found the drug was safe and effective in participants ages 15 to 21 years old.

Medications for alcoholism include:

Teens suffering from addiction to alcohol or illicit drugs are often addicted to nicotine, too. Medications such as Chantix (varenicline) and Wellbutrin (bupropion) can help teens quit smoking.

Spiritual Programs

Several rehab facilities incorporate spirituality into treatment programs. Twelve-step programs are grounded in the belief of a higher power, but they do not require adherence to a specific religion. Other spiritual activities, including meditation, prayer and reading scripture, can have a positive impact on youth.

A 2014 study of teens receiving treatment for substance use disorders found daily spiritual experiences were associated with positive treatment outcomes, including abstinence.

Many facilities give patients multiple group therapy options to choose from, but some centers are run by religious organizations. Religiously affiliated rehab clinics often require patients to study scripture, pray and worship as a part of the treatment process.

What to Expect During Rehabilitation

When a teen enters rehab, he or she will undergo a thorough assessment with a physician or addiction specialist. An individualized treatment plan will be created, and then detox will begin. Depending on the type and severity of addiction, detox can last a few days or an entire week.

Toward the end of detox, counseling and therapy will be introduced into the teen’s daily schedule. After detox, most rehab facilities provide two to three individual counseling sessions each week, group therapy four to five days per week, daily educational programs and nightly 12-step meetings.

Your daily schedule will vary based on your individualized treatment plan and the services offered at the facility. However, a typical daily schedule at a teen rehab facility includes:

Daily Schedule at Teen Rehab
6:00 a.m. Open gym, yoga, meditation
7:00 a.m. Breakfast
8:00 a.m. Chores
9:00 a.m. Goal Setting
10:00 a.m. Individual therapy
11:00 a.m. Family therapy
12:00 p.m. Lunch
1:00 p.m. Relapse prevention
2:00 p.m. Life skills
3:00 p.m. Group therapy
4:00 p.m. Tutoring
5:00 p.m. Recreational time
6:00 p.m. Dinner
7:00 p.m. 12-step meeting
8:00 p.m. Journaling, homework
10:00 p.m. Lights out

In the final days or weeks of rehab, teens will start to learn about aftercare resources. Addiction specialists should help them develop a plan for continuing to see a therapist, participating in community support group meetings and transitioning back to school and work.

Communication with Family

Each facility has different policies for communicating with family members. A zero communication blackout period during the first days or week of rehab is common. After the initial blackout period, patients are usually allowed to talk to family on the phone once or twice per day. Family-based therapy is often incorporated into teen rehab. Family members may be invited to the rehab facility to participate in therapy two to three times per week.

Multi-ethnic group of people in counseling session with therapist

School and Work Obligations

Rehab will probably interrupt schooling, but that doesn’t mean you should wait until summer break to seek help. Health is more important than education. Some teen facilities provide tutors to help teens with schoolwork during treatment. They also work with schools to ensure a smooth transition back to school after rehab.

If you work, you’ll probably have to request extended leave or find a new job. If you hope to return to work after rehab, be honest with your employer about seeking help. Don’t rush back to the workplace, though. Staying busy after rehab is wise, but you don’t want to be exposed to too much stress.

Items to Bring

Different facilities have different policies, but patients can usually bring their own clothing, toiletries and personal items, such as pictures and books. Facilities rarely allow cellphones and laptops, but some allow personal music players.

Other Patients

The other patients are teenagers just like you — teens trying to recover from addiction. Young men and women may attend the same therapy sessions, school modules, meals and hang out during recreational time. But rooming and sleeping areas are always separate.

Court-Ordered Rehab

Many teenagers end up in rehab by court mandate. It may seem like the justice system is punishing you, but going to rehab is a great chance to turn your life around. You can prove that you’re ready to stop using alcohol or other drugs by fully committing to a rehab program. If you’ve been suspended or expelled from school for alcohol or drug use, completing a treatment program can help you get back into school.

How Effective Is Teen Rehab for Addiction Treatment?

The effectiveness of addiction treatment for teens or adults is difficult to measure because of the number of factors that protect and endanger recovery. It’s difficult to say rehab is a failure if a teen relapses because relapse rates for teens and adults are high.

That doesn’t mean rehab is ineffective. Relapse rates for diabetes and hypertension are high, but most people accept that behavioral changes and medical intervention can successfully treat those diseases despite relapses.

The ultimate goal of rehab is to prepare a teenager to abstain from alcohol or drug use and live a high-functioning life. The success in reaching that goal is usually determined by the teen’s support system, commitment to treatment and willingness to change.

A successful recovery includes committing to a healthy lifestyle, building a support system, staying in a safe environment and finding enjoyment in life.

Aftercare is just as important to a teen’s recovery as the initial 30, 60 or 90 days in rehab. A successful recovery includes committing to a healthy lifestyle, building a support system, staying in a safe environment and finding enjoyment in life. That’s usually accomplished by attending therapy and support meetings in the initial months after rehab and building relationships with people committed to a healthy lifestyle.

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