Drug Rehab for Teens: What to Expect

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), those who begin using drugs or alcohol during their teen years are the most likely to develop a substance use disorder later in life. Teen addiction should be addressed as soon as possible, as early intervention can prevent the problem from continuing into adulthood.1 A rehab for teens will offer specialized addiction treatment aimed at their age group and will teach them skills that set them up for a successful future.

Understanding Teen Substance Use and Addiction

Almost 70% of high school students will have tried alcohol by their senior year; 50% will have tried an illicit drug, 40% will have smoked a cigarette, and more than 20% will take a prescription drug for a nonmedical purpose, such as achieving a “high”.1

For teenagers, any substance use should be a cause for concern, even if it hasn’t developed into an addiction yet. The teenage brain is still developing and is often compared to a car with a fully functioning gas pedal (the brain’s reward system) and weak brakes (the prefrontal cortex, which helps you rationalize and make good decisions).1

Does my Teen Need Drug Rehab?

It can be challenging to decide whether or not your adolescent needs teen drug rehab. Generally, if their substance use is interfering with other areas of their life, then it is a good idea to seek help. For teens, even mild substance use is a cause for concern, and some form of treatment is recommended. Research shows that early intervention or treatment can prevent years of problems later in life.1

Some signs that a teen may be engaging in substance use and need addiction treatment include:1

  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Change in eating habits
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Missing classes or skipping school
  • Decline in academic performance
  • Deteriorating relationships with family and friends
  • Change in peer group
  • Change in appearance, hygiene, and grooming

Developing an Individualized Treatment Plan

When you decide that you want to enroll your child in a rehab for teens, always speak with professionals such as school counselors, their primary care doctor, and substance misuse counselors to assess personal rehab needs and find a treatment approach that suits them.

Professionals should tailor treatment plans to the needs of each teen individually, considering the following factors:1

  • Gender
  • Culture
  • Ethnicity
  • Any physical, mental, or behavioral conditions
  • Family relationships
  • Peer relationships
  • Academic performance
  • School attendance
  • Community life as a whole

Is Inpatient or Outpatient Drug Rehab Better for Teens?

A variety of teen rehab centers are available, some that offer inpatient rehab for teens, while others offer outpatient.2

Inpatient teen drug rehab programs take place in a residential facility where the teen will reside 24/7 for a designated time, usually ranging from 30-90 days. However, there are long-term residential facilities as well, where patients reside for six months to a year or longer in some cases.1-4

Outpatient rehab for teens offers similar treatment options as inpatient, except that the teen will continue to reside at home with family and only attend rehab during designated hours, which can range in duration, frequency, and intensity, depending on the facility and the individual needs of each teen.1-4

Some teens may prefer outpatient teen rehab centers because they are lower cost and offer more flexibility, and the teens can continue to live at home and attend school or go to part-time jobs throughout the treatment process.

Some common therapies and treatment options offered at teen drug rehab centers include: 1-4

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Helps teens to “train their brains” so they can recognize their cravings and triggers to use drugs and develop healthy coping skills for dealing with stress
  • Contingency management (CM): Uses motivation techniques and incentives to help initiate behavior change
  • Family therapy: Family therapy helps families address and heal any family dynamics that may be contributing to drug use. Family therapy also provides family members with skills and tools to help support teens in overcoming substance use disorders and building healthy coping skills to prevent relapse in the future. A variety of different family therapy approaches may be offered, including:
    • Brief strategic family therapy (BSFT): BSFT consists of 12-16 sessions and operates under the assumption that addictive behaviors stem from unhealthy family interactions. The therapist will observe the family members and assist them in changing negative interactions.
    • Family behavior therapy (FBT): FBT uses principles of contingency management to address substance use as well as other problematic behaviors. The teen and at least one of the parents will work together to create a treatment plan. Therapists will encourage family members to use behavioral strategies taught in sessions at home to help support their teen.
    • Functional family therapy (FFT): FFT combines a family system view that sees drug use because of unhealthy family interactions with behavioral techniques that help to improve family communication, parenting skills, problem-solving, and conflict resolution.
    • Multidimensional family therapy (MFT): MFT is a comprehensive therapy that includes both the family as well as the community to help teens who are at high risk of behavior problems such as criminal activity and juvenile delinquency. Therapists and families will collaborate with community organizations like schools and juvenile justice systems to help teens overcome substance use and reintegrate into the community.
    • Multisystemic therapy (MST): MST is an intensive therapy that combines a family and community approach to address severe cases of substance use as well as teens with a history of violence or criminal activity. The MST approach views teen substance use in terms of the teen’s attitude, family dynamics, relationship with peers, school performance and participation, and community and neighborhood.
  • Group therapy: Teens tend to be very influenced and motivated by their peers. For this reason, group therapy is an effective option for adolescents as it provides them with the support of other teens going through similar struggles.
  • Adolescent community reinforcement approach (A-CRA): A-CRA is an intervention that helps teens refrain from substance use by replacing community influences that reinforce drug use and related behaviors with healthier social alternatives. A-CRA also provides teens with education on problem-solving, communication, and coping skills.
  • Motivational enhancement therapy (MET): MET uses strategies that take advantage of people’s motivation and readiness to change their behavior and substance use patterns and enter and complete treatment.
  • Twelve-step facilitation (TSF): TSF is a type of individual therapy that is based on 12-step programs. It consists of 12 weekly sessions that help people become engaged in 12-step programs.
  • 12-step programs: Most teen rehab centers will offer a 12-step support group that teens can attend regularly for support and abstinence strategies.
  • Medication: In some cases, your addiction treatment team may feel it is best to utilize medication to help you overcome your addiction. These medications may be to help with withdrawal and detox symptoms as well as maintenance medications that may help you to wean off and replace the use of drugs like opiates or stimulant medications. Sometimes, medication may also be part of your treatment plan if you have any co-occurring health conditions that may require medical treatment.
  • Alternative or holistic therapies: Many treatment centers may offer holistic or alternative therapies to help support teens in recovery. Some holistic therapies and services that may be offered include:
    • Mindfulness-based therapies
    • Yoga and meditation
    • Religious services
    • Massage and spa treatments
    • Acupuncture
    • Biofeedback
    • Nutritional counseling
    • Wilderness or nature therapy
    • Expressive art therapy
    • Music therapy

How to Choose the Right Teen Rehab Program

You should consider many factors when choosing a rehab for teens. Some questions you may want to consider include:1,2,3,4,5

  • Is the treatment approach aimed at my child’s age group?
  • Are the treatment modalities offered evidence-based and backed by scientific research?
  • Are treatment plans person-centered and tailored to the individual?
  • Does the rehab take into consideration the teen’s identity and values?
  • Do they offer medically assisted detox services?
  • Does the rehab center allow visitation?
  • Is family therapy offered that includes parents and/or siblings or other close relatives?
  • Does the teen rehab center effectively engage teens to establish trust?
  • Are there aftercare programs or continuing care options that will help prevent relapse and provide ongoing support?
  • Is this treatment center affordable and within our budget?
  • Is the treatment center close to home or easily accessible for family visits?
  • What amenities does the treatment center offer?
  • Is the duration of treatment long enough to effectively address the addiction?
  • How do 12-step recovery programs fit into addiction treatment?
  • What additional resources and support does the treatment center provide my teen?

Teen rehab centers offer a variety of support and benefits for teens struggling with addiction. Even when teens are in the early stages of substance use or addiction, rehab for teens can be an effective way to curb substance use and develop healthy coping skills that will benefit the teen long after treatment and support them in adulthood.

For more information on teen rehab centers near you, call 800-914-7089 (Info iconWho Answers?) to speak with an addiction treatment specialist.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse (2014). Principles of Adolescence Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research Based Guide.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse (2019). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2019). Treatment Options.
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2013). Seeking Drug Abuse Treatment: Knowing What to Ask.
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