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Substance abuse treatment for teens might entail an outpatient treatment plan, a residential treatment program, or simply long-term support for recovery and sobriety. Understanding how substance abuse treatment is structured can help teens and parents alike in making decisions for their recovery. 

About one in twelve teens have reported using drugs or an illicit substance in the last month. More than 80 percent of these teens reported using marijuana, while an estimated 60 percent of 12th graders drink alcohol. While teens don’t illicitly use drugs as often as previous generations, teen overdose deaths are a greater danger than ever, partially due to the lethality and ubiquity of dangerous additives like fentanyl. 

Using drugs and struggling with substance abuse are two separate things. However, substance use of any kind at an early age often increases the risk of addiction later in life, and research shows that the teen brain is more susceptible to the mechanisms of addiction than older age groups. But what is substance abuse, and how is it treated, to begin with? 

Types of Substance Abuse Treatment for Teens

Addiction is understood to be a complex and often chronic mental and physical health condition with a variety of risk factors. It has been called a brain disease by experts, because of the way long-term drug use can alter pathways in the brain and rewrite our sense of motivation, or intrinsic reward. This can make other sources of satisfaction feel irrelevant or inconsequential in comparison to the addictive drug, interfering greatly in all aspects of life. 

However, while addiction is a neurological problem, it does not rob someone of all their agency. Making the conscious choice to stop using is often an important first step to overcoming addiction. Substance abuse treatments are then about enabling that positive choice and eliminating the obstacles and risks that are currently feeding or will continue to feed the vicious cycle of addiction. 

Most substance abuse treatments for teens are categorized into different levels of clinical involvement. 

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient programs are a popular choice because they allow clients to continue to lead independent lives and follow their own schedules while putting aside a significant amount of time for therapy and psychoeducation. Teens can often continue to go to school while enrolling in an outpatient program for their substance abuse.

Partial Hospitalization

Partial hospitalization is a more intensive form of treatment and is usually prescribed as a short-term treatment plan before transitioning into an outpatient program. Partial hospitalization involves up to five hours of therapy a day, for most days of the week. 

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient or residential treatment plans involve staying at the treatment facility, often either a clinical setting (such as a psychiatric hospital) or a residential setting, such as a private home-like facility where clients live together under the supervision and care of a trained medical team. 

Finding the Right Substance Abuse Treatment

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment plan for addiction, even between each category. While therapy, stress reduction, and healthy coping skills are always central to the process, most addiction treatment specialists agree that finding the right approach for each client is what matters most. 

Substance abuse treatment for teens is not a short-term process. As a teen’s treatment progresses, we find that parents and teens alike often share the same questions. For one, many are concerned about relapses. 

Do substance abuse treatment plans address relapses, or relapse prevention? In short, yes. However, there are many reasons why someone might relapse and start using drugs again, and a single treatment plan cannot always account for, nor completely prepare someone for the circumstances that might lead them to relapse. Extreme pressures, extraordinary stress, repeated triggers, or being exposed to old environments can contribute to relapses. 

Are there family-based approaches for substance abuse treatment? Oftentimes, clinics or facilities that specialize in substance use disorders will also work to incorporate a client’s family in the ongoing recovery process. When the initial treatment program is absolved, it’s often the family that picks up the slack and continues the role of therapist, unless a teen opts to keep up with their treatment. Family-based treatment plans allow addiction clinics and centers to help teach families about protective and risk factors, and relapses, and create a strong support network. 

Some parents and teens are worried about the long-term outcomes of addiction. Is there such a thing as being “cured” from substance abuse? In this case, it’s usually a matter of perspective. Some people believe that struggling with addiction at one point or another means that you are always “in recovery”. Others set a date at which point they consider their addiction overcome. Others just adopt a new label – instead of formerly addicted, they’re sober.

Medically, substance use disorder is characterized by impaired control over substance use and continued use despite severe physical, mental, and social consequences, as well as unsuccessful attempts to quit. If these qualifiers no longer apply, a person may no longer be struggling with substance use disorder. However, they may be at a greater risk of having trouble with addictive substances in the future. 

The benefits of substance abuse treatment range from giving people a chance to lead a healthier, happier life, to equipping them with the tools to reduce stress and minimize the risk of relapses. Learn more about our teen substance abuse treatment programs at Visions or give us a call at 1-866-889-3665. 


A teen substance abuse treatment program can help individuals develop better coping skills for lifelong stressors, identify the red flags of a substance abuse problem, and learn more about how addiction intersects with other mental and physical health conditions. Our substance abuse treatment plans at Visions range from intensive outpatient care to residential treatment plans. 

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