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Teen Drug Rehab

Addiction has no cure, but substance abuse rehabilitation, or simply “rehab,” has been proven to successfully treat people with addiction and help them maintain a sober life. Get your teen the help they need.

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22 min read

What Is Drug Rehab?

Teen drug rehabilitation is a medical treatment process that addresses a child’s physical, psychological and emotional damage caused by drug or alcohol addiction. Rehabilitation services are a powerful treatment option, one that has been refined over the years by the medical community and is now a staple at thousands of treatment clinics across the country.

If you have an adolescent facing addiction in your family, we know you may feel alone. Studies show you’re not, though — teens aged 12–17 represent 7.5% of all people in the U.S. admitted to treatment programs. These teens are addicted to a variety of substances that vary from adult drug use trends, in many cases. More than 65% of teens aged 12–17 who are admitted to rehab have an addiction to marijuana, around 15% are addicted to other illicit drugs, and slightly more than 10% are addicted to alcohol.

teen drug addict looking at syringe

Addiction treatment options are complex and tailored to best suit the needs of each patient, but it always starts with an assessment. A doctor will consider your teen’s addiction, where and how it affects them most and how their personality plays a role to determine what type of treatment will be most helpful.

Drug Treatment Levels

The American Society of Addiction Medicine has laid out what they deem to be the major treatment levels, which your teen will be referred to once they complete an addiction assessment. The following are the therapies in ascending order of intensity.

Early Intervention Services

This level of treatment is for people who are at a known risk of developing substance abuse but aren’t addicted yet, or for those who may already be addicted but doctors lack enough evidence to diagnose substance use disorder. It is never too early to get your teen help. If they are heavily abusing drugs in social settings but are not addicted yet, they may benefit most from this type of treatment.

Outpatient Treatment

Adolescents in outpatient rehab spend less than 6 hours each week at their rehab facility participating in therapy and other recovery strategies.

Intensive Outpatient

Intensive outpatient treatment consists of more than 6 hours each week of rehab activities. This amount of time may be necessary to help patients who have co-occurring disorders or dual diagnoses. Intensive outpatient services are delivered at varying times of the day, which may include before or after school, during the day, in the evening and over the weekend.

Partial Hospitalization Services

These patients receive 20 or more hours of rehab services a week while maintaining outpatient status. While they may have “multidimensional instability,” they do not require round-the-clock care.

Residential/Inpatient Treatment

Teens with substance addictions who participate in inpatient treatment leave their homes and temporarily live in the rehab facility to undergo treatment, which includes 24-hour supervision from trained personnel. These adolescents may have co-occurring disorders, are co-occurring capable, co-occurring enhanced or complexity capable. Inpatient rehab is staffed with treatment, mental health and medical professionals.

Inpatient therapy services include:

  • Clinically Managed Low-Intensity Residential Services – Low-intensity services are for patients transitioning towards outpatient services. These patients are typically focusing on developing recovery skills, relapse prevention skills and ways to reintegrate into sober life. They may participate in five or more hours of clinical services each week. Clinically managed care is directed by an addiction specialist or treatment professional rather than a medical doctor.
  • Clinically Managed Medium-Intensity Residential Services – When a teen addict is so severely affected by their addiction that attending therapy in an outpatient environment isn’t intense enough, they begin inpatient rehab in medium-intensity residential services. This care is managed by addiction and treatment professionals rather than medical doctors.
  • Medically Monitored Intensive Inpatient Services – Patients in this type of therapy have a medical doctor supervising their treatment rather than an addiction specialist. This treatment includes monitoring the patient’s medical status and health records, as well as participating in therapy and counseling.
drug addict hunched over on floor in pain

Medically Managed Intensive Inpatient Treatment

These patients present the most severe cases of addiction and are the most at-risk for adverse health effects. Medically managed intensive inpatients receive 24-hour supervision and nursing care, daily visits from a doctor, and remain in this type of care until progress is shown.

Does Drug Rehab Work?

Addiction rehab has been proven to work, but much of your teen’s success in rehab will depend on them. The elements of rehab can go a long way in shaping your child’s attitudes, emotions and awareness of their problem, but overall recovery is a personal choice.

Research varies on the actual success rates of rehab programs because of this. Even if a teen kicks their habit after rehab, they may still experiment from time to time or relapse months or years down the road. How they follow up treatment and what their loved ones do to help can dictate their overall success in staying sober.

Their success in rehab also hinges on the quality of their facility, their relationship with staff and counselors, the circumstances they’re returning to and any co-occurring disorders they may have — mental health issues, such as ADHD or major depression, which can be addressed simultaneously in certain specialized rehab programs.

teens celebrating by drinking beer

It’s important parents understand that staying clean is a lifelong battle for people recovering from addiction. Relapse is not uncommon. Your teen will have to adjust their lifestyle greatly — this could mean changing jobs, friend groups, hobbies or even cities. But relapse is not failure. For some, the struggle with substances can be an on-and-off battle for years — even a lifetime. Any progress at all should be considered a success. Remain patient and stay by their side as they rebuild themselves in their newfound sobriety. Your continued support, and any support they may receive in aftercare like support groups or counseling can play a huge role in their motivation to beat the addiction.

How to Choose A Drug Rehab Center

There are more than 14,000 rehab clinics in the U.S., and the number continues to grow. It can be difficult to choose a rehab center because many factors come into play. The most expensive clinic isn’t necessarily the best program out there, and the cheapest one isn’t necessarily the best value.

When selecting a clinic, pay attention to the credentials of the doctors on staff, the center’s location and review from past enrollees. It can be easy for a rehab center to get it wrong — for a variety of reasons. Some clinics are located in rural locations that don’t have access to the most modern technology, some can’t afford the best staff, and others have a good staff but are mismanaged or don’t follow industry guidelines.

To help parents, the Federal Trade Commission offers a guide that suggests questions you should ask a potential rehab clinic:

  • Are you licensed by the state?
  • Are you accredited?
  • What are your clinical director’s credentials?
  • How do you define success? What is your success rate? How is it measured?
  • Do you have relationships with companies and individuals that provide educational and referral services? Do you receive commission for these referrals?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse also has outlined 13 principles of effective treatment every rehab clinic should follow:

  • No single treatment is appropriate for every patient.
  • Treatment must be readily accessible and available.
  • Effective treatment addresses the needs of the individual.
  • Treatment needs to be adaptive and flexible to changing patient needs.
  • Remaining in treatment for a reasonable amount of time is critical for program effectiveness.
  • Counseling and other behavioral therapies are critical components for addiction treatment.
  • Medications — in conjunction with counseling and behavioral therapies — are important for treating many patients.
  • Patients with dual disorders must have both disorders treated in an integrated method.
  • Drug detox is only the first stage of effective drug treatment.
  • Treatment can be effective even if a patient isn’t admitted voluntarily.
  • Patients must be monitored continuously to hinder and prevent drug abuse during treatment.
  • Treatment programs should help provide assessment for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C and other infectious diseases.
  • Recovery from addiction to drugs or alcohol can be a long-term and lifelong process.

How Does Rehab Work?

When your teen starts rehab, a doctor will thoroughly assess them to determine their unique needs in the recovery process. Treatment facilities follow a proven methodology for substance abuse and addiction rehab, tweaking the process to fit each patient’s case.

Regardless of which substance your teen is abusing and the severity of their addiction, all treatments go through the same four steps:

  • Intake
  • Detoxification
  • Rehabilitation
  • Ongoing Recovery

Different drugs have different effects on the mind and body, so which type of drug your teen is addicted to — and whether or not they have been dually diagnosed with a co-occurring mental disorder — will greatly impact the type of treatment and length of stay your doctor will recommend.

Your teen’s treatment plan will include some common elements like an initial drug detox and therapy that will be tailored to fit their individual needs. These are often the same methods used to help adults battling a substance addiction. A typical day in the treatment process may involve one or several of these methods and some may be an everyday occurrence until your teen’s recovery is deemed a success.

man doing lines of cocaine on table

Detox

Healing begins when your teen flushes all of the offending substances out of their body. This process, called detoxification, allows healing to begin, so it’s often the first stage of treatment. Over the course of a detox, the body will usually clear itself of the toxins in a matter of days or weeks, during which your teen might experience intense cravings for their substance or feel painful withdrawal symptoms (the reactions the body or brain might have to not receiving the offending substance). To ensure they get through detox at painlessly as possible, it’s best when an addicted teen stays under the supervision of a medical staff.

Therapy

Done in group or individual sessions, a licensed psychiatrist will implement cognitive and/or behavioral therapy to modify your teen’s attitudes and perspectives related to substance use. This helps retrain them how to live without feeding their addiction.

Common types of therapy include the following:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral – Originally designed to target depression, this form of therapy addresses a patient’s underlying causes for their actions and behaviors, and attempts to rework the way an addicted teen feels and thinks about the habits that landed them in rehab.
  • Motivational Interviewing – In this non-judgmental, non-confrontational method, a therapist will engage your teen by asking many open-ended questions. The goal is to hopefully get them to open up and discuss the risks and consequences of what they’ve done so they can consider what could be gained by changing their ways.
  • Contingency Management – Because drugs and alcohol affect the brain’s reward pathways, a teen hooked on substances will come to expect them whenever they feel they’ve “earned it.” This therapy module offers teens rewards for good behavior and for periods of not using, such as gift certificates and other prizes. This can reverse the trend of substance-seeking behavior.

Family Therapy

In family therapy scenarios, the therapist will gather loved ones together to help the teen with an addiction. Together, the family works through the difficulties the addiction has caused and strengthens the family bold moving forward.

Counseling

Substance abuse counselors will engage your teen in open discussions where the root of their problems can be uncovered and a positive outlook can be molded as your teen prepares to reenter the world sober. This also may be done in groups, where you teen can meet others like them who are also dealing with substance problems and, together, make strides towards sobriety.

Prescribed Medications

Depending on the substance plaguing your teen, a certain medication (or medications) might be prescribed to help them fight the addiction and suppress their cravings. Medications can also help lessen withdrawal symptoms during and after detox.

Recreational Activities

In between more formal modules of treatment, a number of clinics will offer social and recreational activities to keep your teen engaged, active and motivated. This may include sports, art, movies, team building exercises or a number of other activities.

Recovery Planning

As your teen prepares to face the world as a sober person, they need to be prepared for the challenges that await, including peer pressure and the temptation to revisit their addiction. Recovery planning is a way for the treatment staff to educate your teen, instill proactive behaviors and help your teen prevent a relapse (falling back into an addiction once they are sober).

Continuing Education

Though your teen’s health comes first, it’s important not to let their addiction and subsequent treatment sideline their education during these crucial years. Outpatient treatment allows your teen to attend school — at least a majority of it — through the treatment in their free time. If your teen requires inpatient treatment, your local clinic may offer supplemental classes so your teen can continue their learning and stay on track academically. This makes the transition back to school easier.

How Much Does Rehab Cost?

The cost of rehab varies depending on several factors including the length of stay and where your rehab facility is located. An initial drug detox can cost $300–$800 per day. Inpatient rehab can range $2,000–$25,000 for a month-long program, and outpatient rehab can cost up to $10,000.

It’s important to remember that addiction costs add up in the long run — on many fronts. To put this in perspective, in the U.S., alcohol-related costs amount to over $225 billion spent yearly. For illicit drugs, the costs amount to over $181 billion. The costs include legal fees, lost productivity and medical costs.

teens in alley drugged-out

In your particular case, health insurance providers may cover costs of teen drug rehab if you can prove your teen requires it.

There are three reasons your insurance provider will consider when determining whether or not to cover your claim, even partially:

  • If your teen requires detox
  • If medical tests indicate the presence or potential of a chronic health problem
  • If your child has a co-occurring mental disorder

But however expensive rehab may be, overall it’s less expensive than the costs your teen will pay throughout their life if they never get treatment for their addiction.

Physical Costs

Without getting help, teens with drug or alcohol addictions can wind up in deep water — for a plethora of reasons. Drugs and alcohol damage the body and mind immensely, leaving teens with permanent injuries or disabilities. In even one night of heavy substance use, a teen can overdose — where the body threatens to shut down from not being able to naturally detoxify itself of excess drugs in the bloodstream — or worse. In 2009, there were 877,802 ER visits in the U.S. involving patients younger than 21 and some form of substance use. Many of these ended in death.

Legal Consequences

An addiction to drugs or alcohol can also send your teen’s life down a slippery slope of high-risk behavior. As history has proven, this can turn an otherwise good kid into a criminal. In 2001, more than 1.5 million youth were admitted to the juvenile justice system, with 60% of males and nearly half of females testing positive for drug use. Drugs are involved in more than half of all violent crimes in the U.S.

Academic and Social Costs

Other consequences can include failing grades, trouble in school (leading to suspension or expulsion), unwanted pregnancies or sexually-transmitted diseases, financial turmoil and the loss of friends. There can also be serious drama at home, which can cause a rift between your family that lasts a lifetime.

Employment Costs

A teen struggling with drug or alcohol abuse will have difficulty holding down steady jobs. The constant urge for the next fix often sidelines professional responsibilities, severing relationships with employers and forcing their hand in pulling the plug on employment. Left untreated, substance abuse can turn into a full-blown addiction. The carryover into adulthood can stain their professional reputations too.

Addiction stigma makes the search for quality employment opportunities — even after rehab — a difficult one. Guilt and shame are often attached to a recovering addict, even when they’ve successfully recovered from their substance dependencies. Fortunately, there are companies and agencies that work with rehab centers to help get your teen on a track for apprenticeships or outright employment.

How Long Is Rehab?

Rehab programs are offered for various lengths of time — 30 days, 60 days and 90 days are among the more common offerings. Each has its own merits, although in general research shows the longer an addict stays in treatment, the better chance they have of maintaining sobriety. This is because your child will have time to discover the causes behind their relationship with drugs or alcohol, develop tools and support networks to help them during their recovery, and practice living a sober lifestyle in an environment where help is readily available.

It can be difficult to know how long your teen will need in rehab until they begin their treatment and medical professionals can track their progress and offer insights. For teens with serious addictions, at least a year’s worth of rehab may be encouraged.

While your teen is in rehab, it’s important to not rush the process or expect results in a matter of days. Their success depends just as much on the program as it does their own motivation to get better.

  • 30-Day Rehab – Short-term rehab, like a 28- or 30-day program, may be best for your family if your teen is resistant to attend rehab, or your family is skeptical of its effectiveness. Although 30-day rehab cannot treat your teen’s addiction in-depth, it’s enough time to allow your teen to detox from their drug of choice and begin to explore ways to change their behavior in the future. This length of treatment is not recommended for those with addictions to more serious drugs like alcohol, heroin and cocaine. If your teen has participated in 30-day rehab programs before and has relapsed one or more times, it may be best to avoid re-enrolling and select a longer program instead.
  • 60-Day Rehab – Enrolling in a 60-day program will give your teen the chance to detox, focus on changing their behaviors in therapy, and begin to practice recovery skills that will help them maintain a sober lifestyle. For many people, the biggest obstacle to selecting a 60-day rehab program is the cost and, if they’ve selected an inpatient program, the time they may have to spend away from home, school and work.
  • 90-Day Rehab – A 90-day program allows your teen more time to spend in therapy, learning recovery skills, building a support system and practice living a sober life. Any addict can benefit from this length of stay in rehab, but authorities maintain that for abusers of harder drugs like alcohol, cocaine, heroin and meth, a minimum of 90 days in treatment is necessary. If your teen has gone through therapy and relapsed several times or has been addicted for a long time before going to therapy, a 90-day plan may be the best choice for them.
  • Long-Term Rehab – Any rehab enrollment that takes longer than 90 days is considered long-term rehab. The length of stay varies anywhere from several months to one or two years in treatment. For long-term addicts or severe addictions, this type of care may be best. Many addiction specialists believe long-term rehab is the only way a person can maintain sobriety because they believe an addict can never recover from their disorder, but instead are always “recovering.”

Why Teens Use Drugs

Teenagers abuse drugs for a variety of reasons, including the following:

  • Experimentation or curiosity
  • Peer pressure
  • Self-medication
  • Rebellion
  • Misinformation about a drug’s effects
  • Social pressure based on what’s seen as “cool” in movies or magazines
  • As an escape/coping mechanism
  • To perform well in school
  • To perform well athletically
  • Because they’ve watched a friend, family member or idol use them
  • To have fun or enhance a party experience

Studies also show other factors like gender, nationality and location are factors for drug and alcohol abuse.

Even so, it can be hard to understand why your son or daughter would put themselves in danger of run-ins with the law and physical harm. For you, social media, movie stars, sports icons and what your friends think of you may not mean much, but to them the opinions of others can become crippling pressures to face.

Preparing for Rehab

Rehab can be a mentally and physically debilitating process, and your teen must be prepared for this. Detoxification, when the body rids itself of toxins such as drugs and alcohol, can be physically painful. Rehab will also take a mental toll, as your child will feel intense cravings to indulge in their addiction.

man holding bag of cocaine

But before detox and your teen’s admission into a rehab program, you can help your teen prepare for rehab by speaking with their school administrators, teachers and employers, letting them know the situation and that your teen may be out of school or work for a period of time. It may also be helpful to speak to your teen’s closest friends and loved ones so they can be involved and supportive in your teen’s life during this difficult time.

The sooner you can tie up these loose ends and begin rehab, the faster you can begin healing and the higher chance your teen has of a successful experience.

Depending on the type of rehab they enroll in, your teen may also be leaving home for a while and moving into an inpatient rehab facility. Check with the center’s staff before moving day — they probably have a recommended packing list, as well as a list of required or prohibited items.

What Comes After Rehab?

While in rehab, your teen will undergo “recovery planning,” during which time their doctors will recommend options for aftercare and lifestyle changes that will best promote their well-being. The risks of relapse — falling back into an addictive habit — are too high and temptations are everywhere. In fact, one-third to one-half of teens who go through rehab experience some form of relapse afterward.

There are many types of rehab aftercare programs for your teenager:

  • Follow-up meetings with the rehab clinic’s staff
  • Substance abuse counseling
  • Tutoring or academic help
  • Attending local support groups
  • Moving into transitional housing
  • Behavior management courses
  • Recovery skill building
  • Individual or family therapy
  • Medication
  • Overall lifestyle changes

Support Groups

Community support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, are a popular place for recovering addicts to convene. Meetings are typically free of charge. These groups welcome anyone with a history of substance problems to attend, meet others like them and discuss their struggles openly without fear of judgement. Many recovered addicts attend regular meetings with these groups for years after rehab as a way to stay proactive in their sobriety and foster beneficial relationships with others who can relate with their own struggles.

Counseling

One-on-one counseling is another option for those on the mend. Substance abuse counselors — often recovered addicts themselves — can help your teen work through personal hurdles as they return to the world as a changed person, and help shape their attitudes and reinforce their decision to get clean.

Transitional Housing

If your teen needs more time to adjust to their sobriety before returning home, sober living homes (also known as sober houses, recovery houses or halfway houses) offer safe, secure living arrangements with neighbors who are also recently sober. In a sober house, your teen will follow a strict curfew and their supervisor/landlord will monitor their activities, support group attendance, counseling sessions and employment.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes are a massive part of life beyond rehab.

To help cement their new lease on life, teens may need to reevaluate some of their former habits, schedules and relationships. Often, there may be new habits to adopt:

  • A new diet or eating habits
  • An exercise regimen
  • Joining a club or sports team
  • Getting a makeover/changing their look
  • Committing to success in school, like enrolling in night classes or getting a tutor
  • Changing schools
  • Moving into transitional housing. Your family may also consider moving to a new neighborhood, city or state.
  • Cutting ties with old friends who use drugs. Similarly, your teen may want to stop visiting old hangouts or practicing old hobbies that they associate with drugs or alcohol.
  • Finding sober friends
  • Creating and maintaining a schedule
girl smoking holding blunt

Does My Teen Need Drug Rehab?

Noticing a problem can cause a tidal wave of emotions and reactions in your family. Remember — as difficult as it may be — not to panic. Addiction is a disease. It isn’t something your teen chose, or can control, and it doesn’t imply a failure on your part. Looking forward is the only thing you can do.

Talk to your doctor to see if rehab is right for your teen. Or, if you prefer anonymity, call the recovery specialists at TeenRehabCenter.org at (844) 229-6013. We are trained, experienced professionals who talk to parents like you every day. Whether you just want to talk, have questions or want help finding a rehab center in your area, we are here for you. Let us help you through this difficult time — make a free call to our drug hotline today.

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