Teenage Rehabilitation

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, your child can recover from addiction and live a happy and productive life.
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Children and teens are more vulnerable than adults to alcohol and drug addiction. Research shows that the younger people are exposed to drugs, the more likely they are to develop a substance use disorder — the medical term for addiction. If your teen is using addictive substances, his or her brain is adapting to the drugs. Alcohol, marijuana and other drugs commonly used by teens can cause dependence. That means they’ll crave the substances or experience withdrawal if they stop using them suddenly. Symptoms of addiction, such as withdrawal or a compulsive desire to use drugs, may indicate that your teen has a substance use disorder. If your child is unable or unwilling to quit, rehab is likely necessary.

Nanci Stockwell of Advanced Recovery Systems describes the differences between addiction treatment for adults and teenagers.

How to Determine When a Teen Needs Rehab

Teens who abuse alcohol or other drugs despite warnings and punishments may be addicted. You can look for a number of warning signs to determine if your child is addicted to alcohol or other drugs.
Warning signs for addiction include:
  • Drastic changes in appearance or behavior
  • Talking about drugs or alcohol frequently
  • Lying about drug or alcohol use
  • Stealing to pay for alcohol or drugs
  • Finding little pleasure in other activities
  • Prolonged sadness
  • Hanging out with a new crowd
  • Sudden drop in grades
If your teen has more than one of those warning signs, you should seek help from a counselor, doctor or therapist. A professional can help you determine whether your child has a substance use disorder and explain treatment methods that offer the best hope for recovery.

Finding a Drug Rehab Center for Your Teen

Your teen’s 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 facilities often offer opportunities for adolescents to continue their education so they don’t fall behind in schoolwork. Some clinics employ tutors to help teens with academics during treatment. Education is important, but recovery should be your child’s top priority. Make sure you find an accredited facility that provides the appropriate level of treatment and prepares your teen for a life of sobriety.

Types of Rehab for Teens

The goal of substance abuse 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 medical 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 your teen feel as comfortable as possible.

Inpatient vs. Outpatient

After detox, a physician or therapist will help you determine whether your child needs 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 teens are surrounded by people committed to staying sober. They have access to multiple recovery programs during the day, and they’re in an environment free of triggers and peer pressure, which can lead to relapse. The advantage of outpatient treatment is that teens can often continue to go to school, participate in extracurricular activities and access support from friends and family. During inpatient and outpatient treatment, your child will attend individual and group counseling sessions and educational programs that teach life skills and techniques to avoid relapse. Most of the time, your teen will have access to 12-step meetings or spiritual-based support groups.
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Integrated Treatment for 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 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.
Effective counseling techniques include:
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Learning to anticipate triggers or problems and developing effective coping strategies
Contingency management
Providing rewards for positive behavior such as participating in treatment and passing drug tests
Motivational enhancement therapy
Helping patients engage and desire to seek treatment to recover
12-step facilitation
Introducing patients to 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous
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.
Therapy techniques that are effective for teens with family issues include:
Adolescent community reinforcement approach
Replacing negative influences with positive reinforcers and rewards
Brief strategic family therapy
Improving family behavior with each family member
Family behavior therapy
Teaching teens and parents behavioral strategies and rewarding positive behavior
Functional family therapy
Enhancing family members’ motivations for change and improving communication and other behavioral skills
Multidimensional family therapy
Collaborating with the school and criminal justice system to reform youth at high risk for conduct or legal problems
Multisystemic therapy
Addressing multiple environmental risk factors for addiction, such as detrimental family behavior, peer pressure, school problems, criminal justice issues and neighborhood influences
Counseling and therapy are necessary to teach teens how to live without alcohol or other drugs. They prepare youth to re-enter school or the community and provide valuable techniques for handling 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. 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:
  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine (Suboxone)
  • Naltrexone (ReVia)
The FDA label for products containing buprenorphine states that the medication 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 who are addicted 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 Teen Rehab

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. 6:00 a.m.Open gym, yoga, meditation
Sample Daily Schedule at Teen Rehab
7:00 a.m. Breakfast
8:00 a.m. Chores
9:00 a.m. Set goals
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 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.

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

Other patients at the facility will include teens trying to recover from addiction. Young men and women may attend the same therapy sessions, school modules, meals and recreational events. But rooming and sleeping areas are always separate.

How Effective Is Addiction Treatment for Teens?

The effectiveness of addiction treatment for teens or adults is difficult to measure because a number of factors can protect or 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. Medical Disclaimer: DrugRehab.com aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.
Chris Elkins, MA
Senior Content Writer, DrugRehab.com
Chris Elkins worked as a journalist for three years and was published by multiple newspapers and online publications. Since 2015, he’s written about health-related topics, interviewed addiction experts and authored stories of recovery. Chris has a master’s degree in strategic communication and a graduate certificate in health communication.

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