The stress of adolescence, a desire to fit in with friends, and impulsive, experimental behavior all conspire to make substance abuse common among adolescents. Some research even suggests teens may be more vulnerable to addiction because of how their brains respond to alcohol and drugs. According to 2015 data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 3% of teens report needing—but not receiving—treatment for drug use. An additional 3% report needing and not getting alcohol treatment.
Addiction can destroy a young person’s life before it even gets started. Drug and alcohol abuse can change brain development. It can make it more difficult to graduate high school, get into college, master basic social skills, and move toward healthy independence. Teen drug rehab offers a safe, drug-free environment where teens can detox from drugs, master life skills, address any co-occurring mental health issues, and work toward a healthy and happy adulthood.
When Is It Time to Send Your Teen to Rehab?
Rehab is just one option for treating teen addiction. Some teens thrive in 12-step programs or with the assistance of a therapist. Others need comprehensive inpatient treatment. Inpatient treatment removes your teen from the environment in which their addiction began. This can help them get sober without temptation. The comprehensive approach of rehab allows teens to test out new skills in a safe environment before returning home.
Inpatient rehab may be the best option for your teen if:
- You’ve already tried other options, such as therapy and 12-step programs, and they have not worked.
- Your child has a history of running away or refusing treatment.
- You feel that you cannot keep your child safe in your home.
- Your child has a co-occurring mental health issue that also needs treatment. In this scenario, it is critically important to choose a rehab that can treat co-occurring disorders.
- Your teen wants to get sober but has many friends who abuse alcohol and drugs.
- Your teen’s addiction is severe enough to endanger their life.
How Drug Rehab Can Help Teens
Drug rehab offers a fresh start by putting teens in a new environment. Within this supportive space, teens don’t have to worry about peer pressure to use drugs. They may also find relief from the stress of family life, bullying at school, and other challenges of adolescence. This new environment is a key aspect of inpatient rehab, and it is not something outpatient treatment models can mimic.
Data on the success of rehab are mixed. While research consistently finds that treatment works, some approaches are more successful than others. It’s important to learn as much as possible about the rehab you have chosen and to ask for evidence supporting its treatment approach.
Rehab success rates vary from facility to facility. Individual factors also matter. Teens who leave treatment early or who refuse to participate may be less likely to succeed. You can help your child succeed by learning about the program, encouraging your teen to actively participate, and then creating a supportive environment when your child returns home.
What is Teen Rehab Like?
Every rehab program is different. At minimum, most programs offer detox support, therapy, group support, and activities that nurture life skills. Some examples of programs you might find in rehab include:
- Classes to help your child keep up with school work.
- Tutoring for kids who struggle at school or who have fallen behind.
- Role-playing activities to help teens prepare for the stress of returning home.
- Activities for building life skills, such as cooking classes.
- Therapy designed to help teens understand their addiction, cultivate new coping skills, and manage symptoms of depression or trauma.
- Treatment for co-occurring mental health conditions.
- 12-step programs and other forms of group support.
- Fun activities such as yoga, crafts, or outdoor events.
Just as you have worked to control your child’s home environment to ensure it is safe and supportive of normal development, it’s important also to choose the right rehab environment. So ask plenty of questions and only choose a program that is fully transparent about its policies and treatment practices.
How to Find the Right Treatment Program for Your Teen
Teen rehab comes in many forms. It’s important to investigate every program you consider to ensure that the program offers an evidence-based and non-abusive treatment plan.
Some teen treatment programs promise to use an authoritarian “scared straight” model. These programs may force teens to work all day in the hot sun, use physical discipline, or berate teens. While this might seem appealing to parents who feel they have lost control, these programs can be dangerous. Some teens have died in wilderness boot camps. Others report intense abuse.
Addiction is a mental health issue that requires mental health treatment. Many teens become addicted because they feel afraid, inadequate, or depressed. Abuse only exacerbates these emotions.
Consider visiting the program you are considering and asking to talk to the professionals who will work with your child each day. Ask for references and talk to other families whose children have completed the program. Some good questions to pose to the program itself include:
- Are you accredited by a specific accreditation body?
- Are your staff licensed mental health professionals?
- What is the evidence supporting the efficacy of your program?
- Has anyone ever been injured in your program?
- What specific treatment methods do you use?
- What do you do if a teen is resistant to treatment?
- How often will you communicate with me? How often can I talk to my child?
- How long does treatment typically take?
- Do you keep statistics on success and relapse? May I see them?
- Can I see a room similar to the one where my teen will stay?
- What will my teen do during the day?
- Do you offer programs to help my child keep up with their school work?
- Can you treat and diagnose co-occurring mental health disorders?
- Is there a psychiatrist on staff?
Can You Force a Teen into Rehab?
State laws regarding forced treatment vary. In general, however, parents have a right to make reasonable medical decisions about their children until children reach the age of majority—usually 18. Parents who are uncertain of their rights or who have very resistant teens should consult a lawyer for help.
Teens who are forced into rehab may be reluctant to participate in the program. They may run away, refuse to discuss their feelings, or do only the bare minimum to get out as quickly as possible. Thus, parents should work to gain buy-in from their kids. Some parents find that interventions, during which family members talk about how the addiction has affected them, are helpful. Others find that a collaborative approach helps. For example, working with the teen to find an appropriate rehab consistent with the teen’s values and philosophy is often more effective than forcing the teen into a facility the parent chooses.
When parents have no choice but to compel a teen to go to rehab, it’s helpful to choose a facility that has experience working with treatment-resistant teens.
Supporting a Teen During and After Rehab
Getting sober can be difficult, especially in an unfamiliar place away from supportive caregivers. Here are some suggestions to improve your child’s chances of success:
- Don’t frame rehab as a punishment or do anything that makes your child feel abandoned and unloved.
- Stay in touch with them, even if they seem angry or resistant. Keep communication positive and loving.
- Listen to your child’s feelings, even if they are negative. Don’t tell your child how to feel, since this can erode trust.
- Send comfort items from home, such as a beloved stuffed animal, family photo, or blanket.
- Talk to your child about rehab before they go. Support them in learning as much as possible about the process. Help them understand that while rehab may be difficult, the difficulties are often temporary.
Once a child returns from rehab, it is critical to foster a loving and supportive environment. Many teens with addiction issues also have challenging family environments. A divorce, history of abuse, or a parent’s addiction can be triggering for teens in recovery. So don’t treat addiction as solely the teen’s problem. It is a family issue that may require family treatment. Family therapy can help your family support your teen. It can help you work through long-standing challenges to create a peaceful and loving family life.
- Harmon, K. (2011, July 25). Does rehab work as a treatment for alcoholism and other addictions? Scientific American. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/does-rehab-work
- Kerwin, M. E., Kirby, K. C., Speziali, D., Duggan, M., Mellitz, C., Versek, B., & McNamara, A. (2015). What can parents do? A review of state laws regarding decision making for adolescent drug abuse and mental health treatment. Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse, 24(3), 166-176. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4393016
- Meyers, L. (2007). Dangerous discipline. Monitor on Psychology, 38(11), 16. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/dec07/dangerous
- United States adolescent substance abuse facts. (2018, July 17). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/facts-and-stats/national-and-state-data-sheets/adolescents-and-substance-abuse/united-states/index.html
- Winters, K. C., & Arria, A. (2011). Adolescent brain development and drugs. The Prevention Researcher, 18(2), 21-24. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3399589