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Teen substance use is a serious issue affecting a significant portion of the adolescent population. An estimated 15 percent of 8th graders, 30 percent of 10th graders, and 36 percent of 12th graders have tried an illicit drug in the past year alone. Although there are no statistics for teen substance abuse, it is known that teens are more likely to try drugs and are much more likely to struggle with repeated drug use over time. One of the biggest risk factors for lifelong addiction is the age of onset – the younger a person starts, the earlier their brain is affected by drug use.

But there is still a significant difference between having used a drug once and being addicted. There is no such thing as hooked on the first toke, and although our insights into brain chemistry do confirm that drugs affect us in a way that makes us more likely to give them another try each time, addiction takes time to develop. Sadly, it’s not always easy to draw the line between drug use and addiction. It’s a slippery slope and a hazardous one for teens especially.

What Exactly Is Teenage Rehabilitation?

What do you do when you’ve found out that your teen is struggling to control a drug habit? First, you make sure they get all the support they need – especially from you. Substance use disorder (SUD) is a complicated brain disorder that affects how teens think, feel, and behave. It can cause irritability, co-exist with severe depression and anxiety, and bring with it an incredibly powerful societal stigma. The last thing your teen needs is judgment for an addiction they cannot control alone.

However, they can overcome it with help. Teenage rehabilitation programs help adolescents equip themselves with the therapeutic tools, experiences, coping skills, the resources needed to fight their cravings, and the ability to seek out help in their darkest days. Most teenage rehabilitation programs are split into two types:

    1. Outpatient programs (OP) or intensive outpatient programs (IOP)
    2. Residential treatment programs (RTP)

In a residential treatment program, teens spend time living in a residential setting with other affected teens, surrounded by attentive and experienced therapeutic staff. Doctors, therapists, and nurses help teens adjust to a life without drugs and slowly transition into a life they want to live. Residential programs include:

    • Detox and physical care.
    • Day school and skills training.
    • Group and one-on-one therapy.
    • And a transitory period.

Inpatient programs differentiate themselves from partial hospitalization programs (PHP) or internment in a medical setting by focusing on life skills and a drug-free but comfortable environment.

Is Teenage Rehabilitation Necessary?

For some teens, yes. These programs are intensive and help monitor teens as they make their transition into a sober life. Addiction is invasive and can be exceptionally difficult to fight back against. Teens in these programs are there because they need interventive help to heal and find a better, healthier, and more fulfilling life path.

These programs also have a proven track record of efficacy. Addiction therapies take time, structure, and repetition to work – and an inpatient program helps teens set themselves up for continuing their sobriety at home and elsewhere through the help of family and friends, as well as the skills they picked up and internalized during their treatment.

Of course, not all adolescents need teenage rehabilitation. There are various flexible programs designed to help teens while giving them and their parents the choice to seek treatment from home while visiting therapists and doctors on an appointment basis. These outpatient treatments still require teens to come in on a strict schedule, but rather than live and get treated in a residential treatment area, teens can continue to live at home.

Outpatient treatment programs are not usually recommended when addiction is severe enough that a teen struggles to stay sober even during treatment due to the cravings and constant reminders triggered by their environment. Sometimes, just walking down a certain street in your neighborhood or talking to an old friend can trigger the urge to use again.

Warning Signs and Symptoms

When does a parent know that their teen needs professional help? Most of the time, your gut feeling is a good metric to go by. Parents know when something is wrong with their kids. But some specific signs and symptoms can help parents identify a potential addiction, accompanying mental health issues (often known as a dual diagnosis).

    • Drastic weight change.
    • Increased irritability.
    • Lying about drug use.
    • Drug paraphernalia.
    • Sudden loss of interest in old hobbies (without finding new ones).
    • Stealing money or drugs.
    • Self-loathing, repeatedly talking about suicide.
    • Signs of self-harm.

A dual diagnosis is often harder to treat than the addiction itself. Still, most who struggle with substance use disorder either already have a mental health issue like depression, anxiety, or a stress disorder or developed one as they started using. Therefore, a multimodal approach tailored to each teen’s situation and circumstances is needed to treat a dual diagnosis effectively.

“Aging Out” of Addiction

The risk of becoming addicted again remains in everyone, just as the risk of becoming addicted, to begin with, is in us all. Long-term management of addiction and the possibility of a true relapse involves identifying the risk factors that lead us into using drugs excessively again (such as extreme stressors, availability, and exposure, certain genetic traits) and the protective factors that help keep us from overdoing it or using drugs again (from regular exercise and a good diet to a strong support system). Addiction is a temporary state that can reoccur, especially without adequate physical and mental healthcare and plenty of social support. By focusing on those protective factors, you can help your teen (or yourself) lead a long and fulfilling life.

Aftercare and Support Are Key for Sustainable Recovery

Regardless of what kind of treatment you find for your teen, most treatment programs are only the beginning of a much longer road centered on trust, support, patience, and time. Unfortunately, addiction can be an exceedingly difficult thing to beat, and there is no real surefire cure for it.

All we can do is help each and every teen struggling with substance use issues get themselves into the best possible circumstances to foster long-lived sobriety and a better relationship with their mental, physical, and social health. If you or someone you love struggles with addiction and other mental health issues, don’t hesitate to seek help.