New Sobriety and Recovery High Schools for Teens

Well, recovery high schools for teens are not all that new. However, there is a new high school that has just opened in New Jersey, and on November 1st, they are scheduled to begin serving 10 teens who have struggled with addiction. In September of 2014, the Raymond J. Lesniak Experience, Strength and Hope (ESH) Recovery High School, located on the Union County campus of Kean University, opened its doors. Recovery high schools are designed to aid students in their recovery from drug and alcohol abuse. Organizers and administrators hope to accommodate at least 90 more in the coming years.

Historically, teens with addictions to alcohol or drugs attended treatment programs that had a boot camp like style with confrontational methods that were meant to break down the attitudes and defense mechanisms of these teens. It was in the 1950’s where clinicians began to recognize that the behaviors of teens with addiction were different than adults with addictions and that they deserved different treatment methods. In fact, with this recognition, the first adolescent treatment center opened in 1952 with Riverside Hospital in New York City.

However, it took some time for the rest of the country to follow in New York’s footsteps. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that adult and adolescent treatment centers were completely made separate across the country. Treatment centers specifically for teens grew more rapidly in the 1980’s through the 1990’s due to increasing research that addictions in teens warrant different treatment. And it was also during this time that recovery high schools were developed as a way to provide treatment for teens with addictions.

There’s no question that the need for substance abuse treatment is high among teens, particularly today. Many adolescents and young adults have a life-threatening addiction to heroin, as a heroin epidemic sweeps across the country. This doesn’t include the many teens who have already lost their lives to opiate addiction. Furthermore, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, of the 76% of high school students who have used tobacco, alcohol, marijuana or cocaine, one in five meet the clinical criteria for addiction.

It’s possible that recovery high schools may be able to provide therapeutic forms of treatment, including behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, and the 12-step model. Behavioral therapy examines any attitudes, beliefs, and thought patterns you might have that contribute to a dysfunctional lifestyle. For instance, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), specifically, is a form of psychotherapy that addresses unhealthy patterns of thought that lead to making poor choices. CBT also provides healthier coping mechanisms to help manage challenging emotions, triggering life circumstances, and stress, replacing any old methods of coping that may have furthered dysfunction and stress. Motivational Interviewing is a form of therapy seeks to evoke a teen’s intrinsic desire to change. Lastly, the highly successful 12-step model uses both a group form of support as well as individual support by having teens utilize a sponsor while on the road to recovery.

However, it’s unlikely that recovery high schools would be able to address treatment for those teens who have a co-occurring disorder. Approximately, 60-75% of teens who abuse drugs or alcohol also have a mental illness. Typically, treatment for co-occurring disorders would include individual and family psychotherapy, medication, support groups, and strong communication among the psychiatrist, psychologist, family members, social workers, teachers, and other professionals in the teen’s life. Ideally, there would be an integration of services between the psychiatric and the drug counseling fields in order to best treat a teen with a co-occurring disorder. Although recovery high schools are likely unable to accept students with co-occurring disorders, instead, teen treatment centers are becoming more and more available as a treatment option.

As research continues on the specific treatment needs for teens, perhaps more and more sobriety and recovery high schools will become available.