The Benefits of Co-Ed Addiction Treatment for Teens

By Meghan Vivo

One of the first decisions parents are faced with when choosing a drug rehab program for their teen is whether a single-gender or co-ed environment would be the most effective. So which is better?

While single-sex addiction treatment is beneficial in the short term because teens can focus on their recovery without distractions, in the long term, mixed-gender treatment more adequately prepares teens for what they will experience in the real world, according to the addiction experts at Echo Malibu, an innovative addiction treatment program for teens in southern California.

Developing Social Skills

Co-ed drug rehab is particularly important for adolescents, who are learning to navigate social settings and develop healthy relationships as they prepare to transition into adulthood.

In mixed-gender addiction treatment, teens are closely supervised by experts in adolescent care while having the freedom to interact with their peers in a healthy, normalized way. Adolescents in co-ed treatment tend to be more socially well-adjusted and have more authentic connections with the opposite sex.

Alonso Dominguez, the Executive Director at Echo Malibu, explains the social benefits of co-ed substance abuse treatment: “A major part of adolescence revolves around socialization and individuation. Developing one’s identity often occurs through social groups. Having youth attend co-ed treatment offers them a rare opportunity to develop authentic emotional and communication skills that in turn build healthier intimacy with others, regardless of their gender.”

Having well-developed social skills is important for long-term recovery. The co-ed environment more accurately reflects the diversity of our society and prepares adolescents for real-world experiences. When teens return home or go on to another treatment setting, they will most likely be exposed to a co-ed environment. Helping them feel prepared to interact with the opposite sex eases the transition, builds confidence and may help avoid common triggers for relapse.

Respect for Others

Although males and females have many differences, they also share more in common than they may realize. During co-ed drug rehab, adolescents realize that they experience many of the same feelings and challenges, regardless of their gender. By sharing meals, therapy sessions and recreation time together, the teens at Echo Malibu develop a profound respect for one another.

“The adolescents at Echo Malibu relate to each other much like siblings,” explains Dominguez. “By hearing each other’s life stories, adolescents develop healthy intimacy with each other. It becomes difficult to objectify someone of the opposite sex when they have shared their pain.”

When there isn’t pressure to date or be attractive to one another, the interactions between boys and girls can be educational and compassion-building. When you blur the gender lines, you encourage authentic friendships and a deeper level of understanding, says Dominguez.

Bringing Up the Issues

Another benefit of mixed-gender substance abuse treatment is that interactions between boys and girls bring out each other’s underlying issues more quickly than might occur in a single-sex environment. For example, weight and body image issues, low self-esteem and other issues are more likely to surface when boys and girls interact regularly.

As these issues come up during treatment, teens are able to process through them with the guidance and support of therapists and peers. If an issue is highly personal or more appropriate for individual discussion, adolescents are able to address it in one-on-one sessions with a therapist.

Preparing for Adulthood

When it comes to substance abuse recovery, practice makes perfect. The longer a teen spends in treatment that prepares them for daily life outside of treatment, the better their chances of long-term sobriety. Echo Malibu creates a nurturing, supportive environment that promotes healing in every area of an adolescent’s life and encourages the development of healthy relationships in treatment and at home.

“We’re here to help adolescents transition into young adulthood,” says Dominguez. “Becoming a healthy adult means learning how to cope with difficult feelings without using drugs or alcohol and nurturing positive relationships with other young men and women. A lot of things change during this transition – saying goodbye to old friends, preparing to move away from home, leaving childhood behind – but a new beginning is waiting on the other side.”