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How to Find the Ideal Rehab for Your Teenage Son or Daughter (2019)

Teenagers are naturally curious about things, and experimentation with drugs and alcohol is not uncommon. Adolescents are prone to giving into peer pressure and engaging in risky behaviors like drug and alcohol abuse. The National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) publishes that the use of mind-altering substances at a young age can elevate the odds that a teen will struggle with drug dependence and/or addiction.

During adolescence, the prefrontal cortex and parts of the brain that help to control impulses are not fully formed. This makes it more likely for a teen to try drugs without regard for the consequences. It also increases the risk for addiction with repeated use, as these parts of the brain can be damaged through regular drug interaction, Psychology Today explains.

When you take drugs or drink alcohol, it makes changes to the chemical makeup of your brain. Chronic use exacerbates this, and it can be even more profound and damaging to the teenage brain.

The 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that close to 4 million people between the ages of 12 and 17 struggled with addiction involving illicit drugs or alcohol.

Once drug use goes beyond rare experimentation and becomes compulsive, it is time to seek professional help. There are many options when it comes to drug rehab for teenagers, and it’s important to access a specialized program designed specifically for adolescents.

teenagers in rehab

Teen Rehab Is Different

There are more than 14,500 facilities specializing in treating drug abuse and addiction in the United States, per the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), but not all of them are meant for teenagers.

Teens and adults are not the same; therefore, addiction treatment isn’t going to be exactly the same either. For instance, NIDA reports that adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 who are in drug abuse treatment programs cite using different substances than adults in treatment do. More teens report marijuana use than alcohol use, and when teens drink alcohol, they tend to binge drink.

Some of the most important influences on a teenager are their peers, so peers can often play an important role in rehab. Programs that are geared toward teens use group therapies, counseling, and support groups to help adolescents connect with others who are experiencing similar issues. These programs and groups are often gender-specific, and they can cater to other demographics as well such as culture, sexuality, and faith.

When you are looking for a rehab center for your teenage son or daughter, think about their personality and what will be a good fit for them. If your son or daughter feels connected and more at ease with a certain population, it can be beneficial to enter into a program that matches up.

NIDA publishes that teens who struggle with substance abuse and addiction also often deal with behavioral, anxiety, learning, or mood disorders as well. A program that serves to manage both disorders simultaneously and in an integrated fashion is optimal.

Programs that help to manage co-occurring disorders will look at how each one may be complicating the other. For instance, a teen may drink because they are trying to self-medicate anxiety or depression. Drug use can increase the side effects and symptoms of a mental illness as well.

Call potential treatment centers and discuss what options they have, take a tour, and talk to the professionals on site to get a feel for the place. Primary care providers and local mental health professionals can often offer referrals for teen rehab facilities.

Outpatient and Inpatient Rehab Options

handing being held from slipping

Teenage drug use can cause a multitude of issues at home, at school, and with peers. It is never too early to seek help for problematic use.

There are variable levels of care, depending on the significance of drug abuse and addiction. Teens who have a strong support system at home, who have not been abusing drugs or alcohol for very long, and who are not significantly dependent on them may do well in an outpatient treatment program that can be scheduled around school and family schedules. When other mental health concerns co-occur with drug abuse, if your son or daughter has been abusing drugs and/or alcohol regularly for a length of time, and if daily life is significantly impacted by drug or alcohol use, an inpatient rehab program is likely preferable.

Teenagers are less likely than adults to recognize that a problem exists and therefore more apt to be resistant to treatment. A treatment program can be beneficial regardless of whether admission is voluntary.

Residential rehab programs allow teens to be fully committed to their treatment and recovery, and most adolescent programs help teens keep up with their education as well. These programs are highly structured and supervised, helping teens to minimize relapse and keeping them busy and engaged while healthy habits are formed.

Rehab programs can range in length from 30 days to up to 6 months. NIDA recommends at least 90 days in a drug abuse treatment program to gain a strong foothold in recovery.

Some treatment facilities offer immersive therapeutic recreational programs for teens that include elements of the outdoors. These adventure-type programs help to build self-reliance and other life skills.

Admission and Detox

The Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator operated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) can help you to narrow down treatment options in your immediate area based on location, types of services offered, payments accepted, and treatment program type.

Before your teen enters a rehab program, comprehensive assessments and evaluations are done to determine what type and level of care will be appropriate. When drug dependence is significant, and your son or daughter has been using drugs or alcohol for a long period of time and their brain is used to its influence, detox is often the first stage of rehab.

This is a short-term program that provides a safe space for drugs to process out of the body. Medical and mental health care and support are available around the clock while they become physically stable.

After detox, your son or daughter can go directly into a rehab program designed specifically for them.

group therapy session


Behavioral therapies are some of the most vital components of a rehab program for both teens and adults. For adolescents, who differ in maturity level and development, therapy will look slightly different than it will for an adult, and it will focus on relatable issues for teens.

Therapies may take place in both group and individual sessions. Group sessions will be closely monitored and directed to ensure they stay on track. People are typically grouped according to shared experiences to promote connection and to focus on similar treatment goals.

As published by NIDA, common behavioral interventions for teens include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps teens to develop healthy coping skills and build self-esteem by working to change self-destructive and negative thoughts into more positive ones, thus helping to modify behaviors.
  • Contingency management (CM). CM uses vouchers for rewards as incentives for clean urine tests to help teens remain abstinent. This method provides positive reinforcement for participating in treatment and can be carried on at home in recovery.
  • Motivational interviewing (MI). MI takes a patient-centered approach to help teens recognize that their drug or alcohol use is a problem and to find the motivation to make positive changes in a nonconfrontational manner.
  • Adolescent community reinforcement approach (A-CRA). This therapy encourages constructive activities, including social and recreational ones, as a replacement for drug use. Negative influences are replaced with healthier ones. Communication, problem-solving abilities, and coping skills are all addressed.

The Importance of Family and Support Groups

Families are essential to the well-being of a teen. Your support as a parent is vital before, during, and after rehab.

Whether teens are involved in an outpatient treatment program and residing at home or living at a residential rehab center, the family as a whole will be involved in some manner. Families are often involved in therapy sessions. They will also need to be educated on what to expect and how to best help the teen, both while in treatment and during ongoing recovery.

SAMHSA publishes that family therapy methods can improve the overall family functioning and dynamic, reduce drug and alcohol use, minimize relapse, and encourage treatment participation and retention. Family therapies focus on the family dynamic and improve communication skills and interactions between family members.

Support groups are extremely beneficial during teen rehab, as peer interaction is so important during this stage of development. Programs that foster peer mentorship and sober connections with other teenagers with similar goals, such as ongoing abstinence, can be fundamental in minimizing relapse.

These support groups typically meet at least once per week. They provide an outlet for teens to express their concerns and struggles in a safe environment with peers who are able to empathize and offer suggestions.

Support groups also exist for family members. Organizations such as Al-Anon can provide insight and education for you as a parent and the rest of the family as well.

It is important to remain active in treatment and recovery with your son or daughter, so you can encourage them in a healthy manner.

family at the top of a mountain

Helping Your Teen Manage Drug Abuse and Addiction

Drug use in teenagers can signal underlying issues, such as high levels of stress, problems at school or with friends, or a learning, behavioral, or mood disorder. Getting help as soon as possible can minimize the impact that drug use and addiction have — not only on your son or daughter but also on you and the family as a whole. A specialized rehab program can foster healthy lifestyle changes and habits that can be sustained throughout life.

There are several things you can do to help your teen through this process. For example, it can be easy to make excuses for a teen’s behavior and to let them off the hook for things. This is actually enabling them to continue using drugs. You have to set clear and concise boundaries with concrete consequences and be prepared to follow through with them.

Be firm and offer fair punishments for breaking the rules. Adolescents need structure to function properly. Teenagers are often unable to understand how their actions impact others. It can be beneficial to know that what they do has ramifications for them and for others as well.

Here are some additional tips for helping your teenage son or daughter manage drug abuse and addiction:

  • Remain positive, supportive, and as nonjudgmental as much as possible.
  • Refrain from enabling them, such as making excuses for their behavior.
  • Keep checking in and encourage open lines of communication.
  • Be honest about your feelings of concern while expressing love and support.
  • Educate yourself on drug abuse and addiction, the warning signs, things to watch out for, and tips for minimizing relapse.
  • Attend support groups and therapy sessions with your teen and on your own. Keep meeting your own needs as well as your child’s needs.
  • Be involved in your teenager’s life. Know where they are, whom they are with, and what they are doing.
  • Encourage positive outlets, such as sports, art, music, or other creative or active hobbies.
  • Make a plan together to minimize relapse.

If you are concerned about potential problematic behaviors or a suspected return to drug use, seek professional help. A counselor, therapist, or support group leader can help you determine the best next steps.


Adolescent Substance Use in the U.S. (May 2011). National Center for Children in Poverty.

The Teenage Brain On Drugs. (February 2015). Psychology Today.

Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. (September 2017). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Drug Addiction Treatment in the United States. (January 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research-Based Guide. (January 2014). National Institute on Drug Abuse.

How Do Other Mental Health Conditions Relate to Substance Use in Adolescents? (January 2014). National Institute on Drug Abuse.

How Long Does Drug Addiction Treatment Usually Last? (January 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Behavioral Approaches. (January 2014). National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy. (2004). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Al-Anon Family Groups. Al-Anon.

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