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Does My Teen Need Drug Rehab? Part Two: Five Signs Your Teen Might Need Residential Treatment

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

In Part One of “Does My Teen Need Drug Rehab?” we discussed the basic levels of care you might find if you decide to seek treatment for your teen. We also reviewed the new vocabulary around addiction treatment. The accepted term for what used to be called drug rehab is now treatment for substance use disorders. There are many reasons for the change in terminology, and none of them are frivolous or simply a matter of shifting fads. The way we talk about rehab has changed not because clinicians are bored, or because the world is getting too politically correct. Quite the contrary: the new way we talk about drugs and addiction encourages us to do two important things:

  1. Understand addiction as a chronic relapsing disease
  2. Destigmatize treatment for substance use disorders

We also began that first article with the following crucial disclaimer, which doubles as practical advice. If you’re worried your teen has a problem with drugs and needs help, consult a qualified mental health professional and get them a full psychological assessment. You can find a reputable professional in your area with this psychiatrist finder provided by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Diagnosis: For Professionals Only

It’s important to understand something before we go further. Only licensed and certified mental health professionals are qualified to diagnose your teen with a substance use disorder. As a parent, you might be sure you know what’s happening, and you may feel certain you’re one hundred percent correct, but you still need a second opinion from someone trained to identify and work with adolescents who need treatment for substance use disorders. Neither you nor this article can diagnose your teen: we’re here to help by offering information that can serve as a launch point or a guide for your decision-making process.

With all that said (again), we’ll move on to the topic of this article: how can you tell if your teen needs a residential treatment program?

Here are five signs the experts look for.

Five Signs Your Teen Needs Residential Drug Rehab

1. Repeated Relapse

If your teen tries and fails to stay drug-free more than once, consider sending them to residential treatment. Repeated unsuccessful attempts at quitting drugs likely means your teen needs help: the status quo is unsustainable, and time in residential treatment might be the answer.

2. Outpatient Treatment Is Not Working

If your teen has tried less intensive treatment without success, it may be time to step up. If outpatient, intensive outpatient, or partial hospitalization programs have nor worked, the next logical step is residential treatment.

3. Need Professional Help

You may have done everything within your power to help your teen get and stay drug-free. But at the end of the day, the fact remains that you’re not a trained professional. It’s also unlikely you can dedicate every moment of every day to helping your teen manage their drug problems. If you’ve tried everything you can, from outpatient to intensive outpatient to partial hospitalization programs, don’t despair. Your next step: pursue a more robust approach to treatment.

4. Dual Diagnosis

Sometimes even a trained therapist cannot unearth an individual’s core emotional issues when drugs are involved. If your teen uses drugs, and repeated attempts at lower levels of care fail, then they might be using drugs to cope with the symptoms of an underlying emotional, behavioral, or mood disorder. If that’s the case, your teen may have what’s known as a dual diagnosis: a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder. For dual diagnosis teens, a period of total detoxification, followed by a period of sobriety, is often the only way to understand what’s really going on with your teenager.

5. Safety

If your teen’s behavior is escalating in a way that creates a safety risk for anyone, do not ignore it. A residential treatment may be appropriate, even if they have not passed through the less intense levels of care yet.

Next Steps: Find A Treatment Center

If you decide a residential treatment program for substance use disorder treatment is a necessary and appropriate step, then it’s time to find a treatment center that matches your family needs.

Take this process seriously, because the treatment center you choose can make all the difference.

Your search should be deliberate, thorough, and comprehensive. Look for fully licensed and accredited centers only. FIrst, narrow your search to those accredited by CARF and JCOH (The Commission on Accreditation for Rehabilitation Facilities and the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations). In addition, any teen rehab center you consider should meet the criteria established in the 2003 journal article “The Quality of Highly Regarded Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment Programs,” which established nine key elements necessary for the effective treatment of adolescents struggling with drug addiction.

Be sure to read: How to Choose A Teen Rehab Center

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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