Why Teens Need an Adolescent Rehab

By John Lee

Adolescents abusing drugs or alcohol put their still-developing brains at risk and impair normal psychosocial development. Those who don’t get help in time face a greatly elevated risk of continuing substance abuse problems in adulthood.

Teens abusing drugs or alcohol need intervention as soon as possible, and since denial is a common characteristic of teen substance abuse, it’s generally up to parents to seek this needed treatment.

It is vital that teens get help as early as possible to limit the damage of addiction, but it’s also important that teens get addiction treatment in a program that is tailored to the specific needs of adolescents.

Although some general substance abuse treatment programs may accept participants of all ages, teens who receive treatment with adults don’t tend to do very well. Among other reasons, teens feel intimidated and uncomfortable in all-age group therapy sessions; they don’t get the discipline or understanding they need; and parents won’t be invited to get as involved in the processes, which is essential.

When searching for a drug rehab program for your son or daughter, make sure to find a program that is designed exclusively for teens. Here are a few reasons teens need the focused care offered at an adolescent-specific addiction treatment facility.

7 Reasons Teens Need an Adolescent Drug Rehab

1. Parental Involvement

Parents must play an active role in the treatment process. Teens in drug rehab may act tough, but they still crave the support of their parents and extended family. And since most teens will return to the family home upon the completion of rehab, it’s vital that parents get involved in the process of change.

All good teen-specific drug treatment programs will offer parental and family programming, which can include:

Parenting classes
Regularly scheduled phone calls between the adolescent and the family
Relapse prevention support for the family
Family therapy
Education about addiction and addiction prevention (such as drug testing)

2. Keeping Teens Engaged in the Treatment Process

Outside of the criminal justice system, adults retain the freedom to choose whether or not to participate in an addiction treatment program. However, parents can mandate a period of addiction treatment for their minor children.

Many adolescents entering into a teen drug rehab deny the existence of a problem and do not come to treatment voluntarily. Therefore, it is vital that program staff makes every effort to engage meaningfully with each teen, and that the program offers relevant programming that maintains the interest of the teens.

Adult drug rehabs less often need to worry about retaining the attention of non-compliant patients, and so aren’t well-prepared to do so.

3. Age-Appropriate Peer Modeling

Teens put a lot of weight on the opinions of their peers. Research has shown that because of this, group therapy is an especially powerful modality in a teen addiction treatment program. For group therapy to have a positive effect, teens must engage with others of a similar age and developmental stage.

Additionally, many longer duration teen addiction treatment programs use positive peer modeling as an element of treatment, using the progress of the “veteran” clients as inspiration for newer arrivals. This positive peer modeling helps to affirm the validity of an addiction treatment program.

Many teens arrive in a drug rehab or wilderness program with a skeptical and defiant attitude, and although counselors can break down these emotional walls in time, the process is faster when newly arriving teens observe other teens who have already accepted the program and what it asks of them.

Teens need the presence of other teens for recovery.

4. Age-Appropriate Discipline

Teens often act out during periods of stress and uncertainty, or when testing the abilities of program staff. Counselors at teen drug rehabs are trained and prepared to be supportive but firm when needed.

Counselors at adult drug rehabs may not have any special training in working with teens and may be ill-equipped to handle a defiant teen.

5. Adolescent Mental Health Expertise

Many teens (some studies show as many as 80%) entering into a residential drug or alcohol treatment program suffer from a co-occurring mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety or ADD/ADHD. Many of these teens may use drugs or alcohol as a way self-medicating a primary condition, and many enter into a program never having received an accurate mental health diagnosis.

Should you have any concerns about dual diagnosis, it is important to ensure that your adolescent receives the attention of a specialist who has expertise in working with teens, especially when prescription medications become necessary.

6. An Academic Component

Alcohol and drug abuse can turn good students into academic failures. Teens recovering from addiction often need to catch up with their peers and can’t afford to waste time away from school.

While adult programs won’t have an academic component, teen drug rehabs will almost always offer some degree of schooling. In long-term teen drug rehab programs, teens can earn school credit while away. Due to small class sizes, teachers in drug rehab classrooms can give extra attention and remedial support to students needing assistance in one or more subject areas.

7. Adolescent Specific Therapy Topics

Adolescence is a difficult stage of life for everyone, let alone someone struggling to maintain sobriety.

The risk of relapse goes up when teens aren’t ready to cope with the challenges of adolescence. For this reason, teen drug rehabs generally include life-skills programming to help teens navigate safely and effectively through to adulthood.

Some life-skills topics may include:

Conflict resolution skills
Talking about feelings
Saying no to drugs and alcohol
Learning how to control anxiety in social situations
Learning how to make friends
Assertiveness training

Teen-Specific Addiction Treatment Makes a Difference

Be sure to find addiction treatment that is designed to suit the unique needs of the adolescent.