What Teen Rehab Is Really Like

Teenage boys experiencing rehabAccording to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 1.3 million U.S. adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 had a substance use disorder (SUD) in 2014. During this transitional period, adolescents are at heightened risk for alcohol and drug use; the teenage brain has not yet fully developed, making it more challenging for them to exert critical thinking skills. If you have a teen who has been struggling with substance abuse, the sooner they seek help, the better. Teens have a high possibility of recovering from substances without taking it into adulthood if they obtain treatment early on; before pursuing treatment, however, you and your teen may be wondering what “teen rehab” truly looks like.

Personal Experiences

1. Admitting the Problem

In 2017, Tonic, a portion of Vice Magazine that covers trending topics on mind, body, healthcare and more, sought to get some information from those who’d attended rehabilitation for substance abuse as teens. Sammy, age 31, expressed that it was hard for them to go through rehab because they kept wanting to “write off” their drinking as part of teen experimentation. They stated,

“I actually struggled for a really long time to admit [I was a person with alcoholism] because I never did my drinking in bars and never got a DUI.”

Since drinking and drug use is often considered a normal part of “teen angst” or adventure, many teens in rehab must acknowledge that their patterns of behavior are not healthy for them.

2. Becoming Part of a New Community

Morgan, 22, explained that she got out of rehabilitation for Xanax, alcohol and opiates a month before her 21st birthday. Despite having gone through a journey to understanding that she did struggle with addiction, she came to know many people throughout treatment that helped her form a sense of community. She even came into contact with an old high school friend who had been practicing sobriety for a few years. She stated,

“A bunch of sober people showed up and I actually had a really nice time.”

As with anyone in recovery, teens will need to find people they can rely on who support their recovery efforts. Going back to the same social groups they abused substances with will only reinforce negative patterns of behavior.

3. Finding Yourself

Many teens become lost during these developmental years, as they’re trying to figure out who they are. They’re more susceptible to follow through with peer pressure because they want to “fit in” and, without having a clear sense of their own values, beliefs and identity, they’re at an increased risk for making impulsive decisions. Jamie, 23, told Tonic that despite her friends believing her weed and alcohol addictions were simply “phases”, she came to realize that it was through rehabilitation that she gained a sense of clarity about who she was. She stated,

“Most of my peers are popping Adderall when midterms and finals roll around. I can become envious at time…But then I think: how awesome that I get to do this sober – it’s all me!”

Components of Rehab


Teen rehabilitation is similar to adult rehabilitation in that individual therapy and group therapy is going to be a part of the daily experience. Teens need someone to talk to – someone to learn more about addiction from, someone to share their experiences with and someone to develop healthy ways to work through thoughts and emotions. The Fix highlights many benefits that therapy can bring to our teens:

  • Guidance through a sensitive time
  • Mediation in family work
  • Mental health “tools” and ways of thinking about substances
  • Enhanced learning opportunities


In residential treatment programs, teens are provided with much more guidance and support than they would receive attending anything else. Here are some specific benefits of residential treatment:

  • An environment with no triggers – teens who are not surrounded by friends they abuse substances with are able to heal much more efficiently than those with constant reminders
  • Families receive a short break – for many families, a break is exactly what’s needed when their teen is in and out of trouble with substances. Family members can take a step back from unpredictability and feel safe in knowing their teen is being well taken care of.
  • Structure – with daily schedules, teens quickly learn to formulate a plan from morning to night. There is little down time for them to think about acquiring substances – and residential treatment will ensure that all their activities planned throughout the day promote their sobriety, healing and recovery.


Teens need as much support as possible, and this accounts for all aspects of their lives. With an entire healthcare team by their side, teens are encouraged to live a life that speaks to their mind, body and spirit. 12-Step models of support provide youth with clinical therapy, educational services and adventure programming – all of which speak to the heart of recovery.

Education is incredibly important for teens during this time, and recovery shouldn’t set them back. ARCH Academy specifically offers a fully accredited private high school with grades 7-12 and includes GED prep, credit recovery options and follow-up placement. Between the love and support provided by staff, to the teachers, to their therapist and their family, teens are set up to succeed.

Adolescent Recovery of Cumberland Heights (ARCH) originally began in 1985 when there were few other adolescent programs like it in the country. In 2019, we’re expanding our continuum of services with ARCH Academy, a unique program that offers 60 days to 6 months of residential care to adolescent boys ages 14-18 who are struggling with alcohol and/or drug addiction. This new program stems from Cumberland Heights, which has been around since 1966, and is located in Kingston Springs, Tennessee. The adolescent age is a critical time for development, making this a crucial time of positive influence. For more information, call us today at 1-800-646-9998.