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Teen Addiction and Rehab Programs

Teens and adolescents often experience addiction differently than their adult peers, and may benefit from teen rehab programs.

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Struggling with addiction at any age can be challenging, but it can be especially difficult during adolescence. During one’s teenage years, the brain is still developing, and as a result may be more susceptible to the ways that substance misuse can alter brain chemistry.1 Luckily, addiction treatment remains a viable and effective option for many teenagers who are struggling with addiction.

Many teenagers may benefit from specific teen substance use treatment programs that are specifically geared towards their unique developmental and social needs. In particular, teens may also feel more comfortable in an environment that includes people of their own age group. If you are a parent of a teen who is struggling, you may wish to learn more about teen substance abuse and how specialized teen rehab can help.

Substance Use in Teens

Alcohol is the most misused substance by teens, followed by marijuana and tobacco.1 According to the Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), around 1 million adolescents reported binge drinking in the past month.3 Binge drinking means having 5 or more drinks (for males) or 4 or more drinks (for females) on the same occasion on at least 1 day in the past 30 days.3 Illicit drug use is also prevalent amongst teen populations. The NSDUH indicates that 3.4 million adolescents aged 12-17 reported using illicit drugs (which includes marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, methamphetamine, or prescription psychotherapeutic drugs) in the past year.3

Additionally, the NSDUH indicates that 712,000 adolescents aged 12-17 met the criteria for a diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder (AUD), while 1.2 million met the diagnosis criteria for an illicit drug use/substance use disorder (SUD) in the past year.3 1.6 million adolescents needed treatment for SUD in the past year, but only 169,000 received substance use treatment.3

Teen substance use can occur for different reasons:6, 7, 8, 9

  • They may be curious to see what it’s like or want to have a new experience.
  • Peer pressure or negative environmental influence. This can include associating with peers who use substances or having easy access to substances in the neighborhood or school.
  • Poor parental role modeling or supervision. Teens who have parents who use drugs or alcohol may be more likely to use substances; teens may also be more likely to use substances if their parents are unavailable to provide proper support and supervision.
  • Violence or abuse. Teens who are victims of physical or emotional abuse or neglect can have an increased risk of substance use.
  • Self-medication for mental illness or physical pain. Teens who struggle with issues like depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and anxiety may be prone to use substances to ease or manage their symptoms. Teens with chronic pain may abuse prescription opioids, which can include taking someone else’s prescription.
  • A desire to improve performance. Teens may misuse prescription stimulants hoping that it will improve their grades or their ability to concentrate.

Signs of Teen Substance Abuse

Teen drug abuse and addiction can look different than addiction in adults. Some of the common signs of teen substance abuse can include:10

  • Persistent fatigue.
  • Unexplained health problems.
  • Eyes that are chronically red or appear glazed.
  • Sudden or rapid personality or mood changes.
  • Frequent irritability.
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor judgment.
  • Depression.
  • Starting arguments with family or friends for no clear reason.
  • Breaking the rules more often.
  • Withdrawing from family and friends.
  • Decreased interest in school.
  • Poor or decline in academic performance.
  • Truancy or frequent absences from school.
  • Sudden changes in social group/friends.
  • Problems with authorities or the law.

Specialized Rehab Programs for Teens

Adolescents who use substances have different patterns of substance use and different treatment needs than adults.7 For example, when teens use alcohol, they are more likely to binge drink than adults.7 They are also more likely to try to hide their substance use and keep using substances despite the consequences.7 They may not have experienced many of the effects of substance use as adults do (legal, relationships  and financial trouble), so they may be less motivated to seek treatment compared to adults.7 Teens can also have more difficulty seeing their problematic behaviors and the potential consequences.7

Specialized teen drug rehab is designed to address the unique circumstances and needs of adolescents, and should be personalized to the specific needs of each teen.7 Rehab for teens should take into account a teen’s developmental concerns, cognitive abilities, social influences, and additional mental or physical health conditions.7

Therapies in Teen Rehab Programs

Substance use disorder programs for teens should involve evidence-based approaches, meaning that they have been scientifically tested and proven to be effective in treating adolescent substance abuse.7 These programs may involve behavioral therapies and different interventions to help teens achieve abstinence, remain sober and avoid relapse, and help them engage in productive and meaningful lives.7

Some of the therapies used in specialized teen drug addiction treatment can include:1, 6, 11, 12, 13, 14

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This helps teens identify and correct unhelpful or dysfunctional thought and behavior patterns that lead to substance abuse. It also teaches them different skills so they can learn self-control, manage impulses, and develop effective coping skills.
  • Motivational interviewing (MI)/Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET). This is designed to promote rapid change by helping teens explore and resolve their ambivalence around making behavior changes, including their substance use. It can help increase their internal motivation to change.
  • Family-based therapy. This can include different approaches, such as Family Behavior Therapy (FBT), which involves engaging at least one family member in treatment with the teen. It helps them apply the skills they’ve learned in treatment and helps families develop new skills to improve their home environments.
  • Group therapy. Different group therapy approaches are offered at teen rehab centers. Teens may also participate in mutual support groups, such as 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), to help them remain sober through peer support and encouragement.

How to Find Rehab for Teens Near Me

Teens who want to enter treatment may benefit from finding a treatment location near their homes. Before seeking treatment, you may wish to consult a physician for an evaluation to discuss specific medical and treatment needs. A doctor can provide referrals to teen drug addiction treatment centers near you. You can also find nearby treatment centers using the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s treatment locator.

Addiction helplines, such as the one operated by American Addiction Centers (AAC), may also be able to help you find a specialty teen rehab center and answer any questions you may have about substance abuse treatment for teens. AAC’s confidential, 247 helpline will be able to put you in contact with an admissions navigator who can help you find a rehab that’s right for you. They can also help you verify your insurance. Don’t wait to start your journey to recovery; contact us today at or text us.