Recovery High Schools contribute to Young Adult Addiction Treatment

Recovery high schools were founded in the 1980s and designed specifically for young people in recovery from substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions. The first school was established in Silver Spring, MD and has now spread to an estimated 43 locations nationwide. These secondary schools offer supplementary education and support for young adults in addiction treatment. Recovery high schools like 5250 High School in Denver, Colorado, have found great success in helping young teens. Students are able to receive all the extra support needed throughout their recovery with greater chances of a positive future beyond secondary school.

A groups of three young female students around a hallway locker in a recovery high school that contributes to young adult addiction treatment.

What is a Recovery High School?

According to a national survey from Monitoring the Future, in 2022, almost 1/3 of 12th graders and 1 in 5 fifth graders reported using illicit drugs. The survey by the University of Michigan Research Center highlighted the gap in effective addiction treatment for young adults.

Recovery high schools operate as traditional secondary schools, with the added benefits of addiction recovery support services. Unlike, traditional schools, recovery high schools are also staffed with therapists, substance abuse counselors and mental health clinicians.

Behavioral therapies and one on one counseling are some of the unique support programs students can receive. Recovery high schools meet the state requirements for presenting a high school diploma by offering the necessary credits, extra tutoring and class lectures. All of the students enrolled in the school are teens in active drug rehab for young adults. These programs include recovery for alcohol use disorder, substance use disorder and co-occurring mental health disorders.

The unique schools also provide additional family support services. Addiction in young teens and adults can be a difficult and confusing time for family members. Oftentimes, they are unable to understand and cope with the situation. Recovery high schools offer extra support through education and resources on how they can best support their student.

In addition to recovery high schools, there are a few other non-treatment programs available to help young students throughout their recovery of substance addiction.

A therapeutic boarding school is a type of program that provides supplemental substance addiction therapies. This allows students to work on their emotional growth, coping mechanisms and behavioral skills. In this program, students are not required to be enrolled in a young adult addiction treatment program. Students here will have the opportunity to earn credits and receive a secondary school diploma once the program has been completed.

Alcohol and drug treatment center schools are facilities that provide medical and clinical treatment for students. It is most associated with a residential treatment program in a more intensive level of care. Along with extended academic and behavioral support, students are provided with homework studies and other resources to maintain their academic status while in active treatment.

Benefits of Recovery High Schools

5280 High School opened in 2018 as a public charter school and is Colorado’s only recovery high school. As one of the biggest schools in the nation, it enrolls more than 100 students in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. Founder and executive director Dr. Melissa Mouton, says the school’s mission is to help students learn how to live a substance-free life while receiving a high standard of education. This includes students attending recovery meetings, participating in physical and mental wellness activities and enrolling in traditional classes such as English, Math and Science.

Data has shown that students who are in active recovery, have better attendance and are more likely to stay sober. With a 21% higher graduation rate than traditional high schools, supported students have a greater chance of maintaining long-term sobriety.

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Oftentimes, when students leave intensive recovery programs, returning to their high school means returning to an environment that triggered their addiction.  For some, going back to school exposes students to situations and feelings associated with their addiction. Their school can become an unhealthy environment and can be triggering. Other factors that can contribute to relapse include co-occurring mental health conditions such as trauma from sex trafficking, abandonment and drug trafficking.

When students leave intensive residential care, there are many factors that can hinder their addiction recovery.

  • A lack of interest in productive activities such as sports and hobbies
  • A return to the environment associated with previous substance use
  • A failure to establish social contact and interaction with non-users
  • A lack of family involvement and support
  • Less likelihood of attending recovery support meetings
  • Less likely to participate in activities that do not involve drug use
  • An increased chance of engaging in activities with pretreatment friends through peer pressure

Recovery high schools help students engage with other peers who might be experiencing similar life situations. Being in a community of like-minded peers is especially helpful for students who often feel alone and isolated in their addiction. They are more likely to be open and honest about their struggles. Schools are also compromised of teachers and counselors whose primary goal is to support their mental health and sobriety.

Unique features of recovery high schools that benefit students who are in treatment for an alcohol or substance addiction include:

  • Schools target multiple aspects of maintaining a healthy well-being. This includes educational, emotional, physical, vocational and legal services.
  • Schools are more sensitive to the cultural and socioeconomic realities of students
  • Schools highly encourage family involvement in helping their students in recovery and treatment
  • Schools help students increase prosocial leisure habits
  • Schools focus on relapse prevention
  • Schools provide students with cognitive behavior and problem-solving skills training

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Effective Addiction Treatment for young adults

Teens and young adults often face unique obstacles in addiction and recovery that differ from an older age group. Traditional substance use disorder treatment was created for adults. This leaves disproportionate gaps in effective treatment methods catered toward a younger audience. Dr. Sharon Levy, a pediatrician and addiction medicine specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital, says there are three main components for effective drug treatment in teens and young adults.

Medical Treatment – Being able to see a medical doctor, utilizing drug testing and medication-assisted treatments can be highly effective in maintaining sobriety.

Emotional Support – Teens and young people are still developing social and emotional coping skills that may have been stunted due to drug use. Providing counseling and group therapy to address any co-occurring mental health conditions allows all aspects of their addiction to be treated.

Behavioral Treatment – Students who receive positive feedback from parents and mentors can help keep them accountable for their recovery. The added benefit of peer support and recovery schools can also help students maintain long-term sobriety.

At Hotel California by the Sea, treatment for teens and young adults differ from traditional treatment methods. This specialized program is uniquely catered toward the challenges and obstacles young people face during addiction and recovery. The detox and residential program offers intensive care and medical attention during a vulnerable stage of drug rehab for young adults.

Once young people have stepped down in care into PHP and IOP programs, they will participate in age-appropriate therapies. CBT, DBT and EMDR therapy will be adjusted to focus on specific issues of interest for a younger age group. Addiction treatment for young adults involves intensive residential treatment followed by outpatient programming. During this phase, support through other resources such as a recovery high school will also prove beneficial for long-term health.