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How Drug Rehab Differs Between Teens and Adults

Mother Talking With Unhappy Teenage Daughter On Sofa  

There are some substantial differences between the drug addiction treatment options that are used for adults and the treatments used for teens. Teen drug rehab tends to involve family much more than adult treatment options and tends to be outpatient more than being admitted into a rehab facility.

Teens typically have adults who can look after and monitor them closely in their home environment and will respond better to input and advice from those they know rather than strangers, making family and close friends an important part of the recovery process.

Approaches to Teen Substance Abuse Treatment

There are several different and complementary approaches to treating addictions in teens. These approaches are different for teens than they are for adults because the unique needs of teen cognitive development differ from the needs that adults may have who are not developing in the same way.

Overall, teens respond better to long-term treatment that involves family and focuses on behavior modification. Further, teens are at a higher risk of relapse, requiring a more thorough follow up treatment.

Teen vs Adult Addiction Treatment

Diagnosis, treatment options and treatment emphasis for teens differ from that of adults. The need to act quickly once an addiction is found is more important in teens because of the effects of drugs on the teenage brain and the long-term damage that they can cause during brain development. Finding rehab for teens can be more difficult than it is for adults and may require traveling some distance, depending upon their location.


Both teens and adults will need to receive an addiction diagnosis from a doctor. Adults are able to make their own medical decisions and will typically make the decision to seek medical treatment on their own before beginning treatment.

Teens, on the other hand, can not make their own medical decisions, and these decisions are made by a parent or guardian. This can make it easier for parents to get help for their teens. However, because teens do not get to decide if they will be assessed or treated for addiction, their involvement may typically be lower than an adult seeking treatment.

Treatment Options

A teen rehab center will typically involve an environment where they are surrounded by others their own age. Some of the treatment options that will need to be considered for teens include:

  • Drug & alcohol detox: Detox for teenagers will be similar to what it would be for adults and may involve detoxing at home or using a detox facility, based on the severity of the addiction and the withdrawal symptoms that are likely to be experienced
  • Inpatient vs outpatient rehab: When considering outpatient vs inpatient rehab for teens, typically, teen outpatient treatment is used. Teens have a more controlled environment and authority figures at home who can monitor and engage in their treatment. Inpatient drug rehab for teens can become necessary depending upon the severity of the addiction, the symptoms that are likely to be experienced and the home environment of the teen
  • Rehab aftercare: Drug rehab aftercare is an important part of teen drug rehab. Teens are more likely to relapse than adults, and following up with a solid treatment plan that is supported by those close to them is important for teens
  • Relapse prevention: Teen relapse prevention involves the plan to avoid relapse once the aftercare is completed. This drug relapse prevention is the lifelong process of maintaining sobriety and avoiding relapse. This will involve using the coping techniques and supports that were taught in rehab
  • Co-occurring disorders: A dual diagnosis of drug addiction and mental illness complicates treatment for teens. This requires specialized treatment of both mental illness and substance use disorder at the same time. If both conditions are not treated simultaneously, the chances of recovery are much lower

Treatment Emphasis

Teen therapy involves several substance abuse treatment approaches that have been proven to be effective in teens. These include:

  • Behavioral approaches: Behavioral approaches include therapies that are designed to change the teen’s behavior. The most commonly used behavioral approach is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Teen CBT involves helping the teen to understand the internal motivators behind behavior and encouraging them to modify these motivators to bring about a positive change in behavior
  • Family-based approaches: Family-based approaches involve family-based therapies that include not only the teen but their core family unit as well. Family-based therapies provide both accountability and support for teens as they recover from their addiction
  • Addiction medications: Addiction medications can help to provide relief from cravings or from the symptoms of withdrawal. Teens with addictions may require medication to start or continue their recovery
  • Recovery support services: Recovery support services many include individual or group therapies or ongoing outpatient support that focuses on maintaining sobriety and avoiding relapse

Length of Treatment

The length of rehab or treatment for teens will vary greatly depending upon the individual circumstances. Treatment may involve a detox period that will be similar to the length expected for an adult. Teens may spend less time in inpatient rehab and more time in outpatient rehab than an adult in the same situation would.

Choosing Treatment Facilities for Teens

Choosing the right teen recovery center can be difficult, and there are several components of each treatment center that you should take into consideration, including their record of success, cost-effectiveness and treatment capabilities. If your teen also has a mental health condition, it is essential to look for dual diagnosis capability in addiction treatment programs. Trying to find a holistic addiction treatment that addresses not only cravings and drug use, but also your teen as a whole will be essential for giving them the best chance of recovery possible.

If your teen has a substance use disorder or is using illegal drugs, then you should seek professional help. The Next Generation Village is committed to helping teens to achieve lasting recovery from their addiction. Reach out to one of our understanding team members today to learn how you can start your teen on their path to recovery.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.


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