Close this search box.
Close this search box.

How to Choose a Teen Rehab Center

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 >

Essential Elements of Teen Rehab

In 2003, a group of experts on teen addiction treatment launched a project with an ambitious goal: “to conduct the first systematic evaluation of the quality of highly regarded adolescent substance abuse treatment programs in the United States.” They published their findings in a report that outlined nine core elements for treatment of teens struggling with addiction. The research team included scientists, therapists, counselors, and federal policy makers. Over the course of two years, they examined the practices of 144 programs. In the end, they agreed on a group of fundamental components necessary for offering quality rehab treatment for teenagers. Here’s what they found:

Nine Elements of High-Quality Teen Rehab Centers

1. A Teen Rehab Should Have Evaluation and Custom Plans

The best rehab centers conduct complete admissions evaluations. They create a full biological, psychological, and social assessment of the teenager’s life. Quality evaluations must be:

  • Evidence-based
  • Recognized as effective by the treatment community
  • Tested over time
  • Proven effective in real-world circumstances
  • Capable of recognizing co-occurring disorders
  • Sensitive to family dynamics
  • Capable of identifying relevant social factors and other issues

2. A Teen Rehab Center Should Offer Complete Treatment

After an evaluation is complete, a high-quality teen rehab center must use the evaluation effectively. High-quality programs use their evaluations to create custom plans that account for all the mental, physical, and emotional issues identified. A plan that addresses addiction only is not enough.

3. A Teen Rehab Center Should Offer Family Participation

Individual plans must include the family. This means parents, grandparents, siblings, other primary caregivers, and any people active in the day-to-day life of the teen. Data indicates that more often than not, direct family participation in treatment results in better results for the teenager.

4. A Teen Rehab Center Should Be Age-Specific

Treatment must be tailored to address the unique needs of teenagers. Adolescents require different approaches than adults. What works for one population will not necessarily work for another. Therefore, treatment centers must not only adapt modalities to meet the needs of teenagers, but also strive to create new approaches that offer teens the best chance of healing and recovery.

5. Rehab Centers Should Focus on Involvement and Time-in-Treatment

Teen rehab centers must make a genuine effort gain trust from teens struggling with addiction. Teen rehab centers must adapt treatment environments, activities, activities, hours, and techniques so they’re more likely to resonate with their adolescent clients. An interested an engaged teen will commit to treatment sooner and stick with it longer, which dramatically increases their chances of sustained sobriety and long-term health.

6. A Rehab Needs a Trained, Licensed, Professional Treatment Team

Rehab staff must receive specific training in working with teens. Anyone involved in the recovery process must understand teen issues. Most importantly, they need to be experienced in adolescent development and the ins and outs of adolescent addiction. In addition, it’s crucial for them to have clinical experience addressing co-occurring mental and emotional disorders.

7. The Treatment Center Must Consider Culture and Gender

Teen rehab programs must understand and serve the various needs of a diverse population. Clinicians must be aware of and trained in treatment practices specific to boys, girls, LGBTQI individuals, and cultural/ethnic minorities.

8. The Best Rehab Centers Offer a Full Continuum of Care

Teen rehab programs must include practical, effective, proactive aftercare plans and evidence-based sobriety strategies. Successful post-treatment plans include family participation, continuing outpatient therapy, peer support, and ongoing access to community-based options. For example, a good aftercare plan includes information on local AA, NA, SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery, or similar 12-step programs.

9.  A Good Rehab Will Track Treatment Outcomes

Teen rehab programs must perform consistent and timely evaluation of therapeutic modalities and treatment outcomes. Programs must fully commit to an ongoing process of assessment, review, and improvement in order to to keep pace with current best practices and increase overall likelihood of success for their teenage clients.

What Next? Finding The Right Rehab for Your Teen

Let’s back up a step: before you consider sending your teen to rehab, you need to verify they do, in fact, have a substance use disorder. Finding a vape device in their backpack is not enough. Hearing through the grapevine they were hanging around at a party where their friends were using drugs is not enough. To determine whether your teen has a substance use disorder and needs rehab, you need to consult with a qualified professional. If it’s an isolated incident, it may be a cry for help or attention. Shipping them off to treatment would be a counterproductive overreaction. It’s possible that all they need is quality time with you or a few sessions with a qualified therapist. To find a licensed professional in your area, use this psychiatrist finder provided by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Now that we have that covered, it’s time to do your research. To start, get online and look for treatment centers that specialize in teen drug rehab. Next, review their websites to confirm their programs contain all the elements mentioned above. When it comes to treatment, you don’t want to settle for half-measures. And here’s a tip: it’s the treatment that matters, not the trappings. For instance, don’t be fooled by fancy marketing or treatment centers that feel more like luxury vacation spas than serious programs designed to help and heal. We’re not saying high-end, posh treatment centers don’t help and heal – we’re saying it’s the elements of the program that matter, not the zip code or the presence of swimming pools and jumbo flat screen TVs. Those things are wonderful, but they need to be in addition to rather than instead of  evidence-based modes of therapy.

Start Asking Questions

Once you narrow your list down to a short list of potential prospects, it’s time to gather facts. Firstly, get on the phone. Secondly, keep the list above right in front of you. Thirdly, talk to the relevant staff at each location to make sure they’re licensed and qualified. After that, go over every element identified by the experts (the list above) as essential and ask specific questions about each one. Finally, if the center you’re talking to doesn’t include all of them, or they give you the runaround, they make your job easier. Simply thank them for their time, hang up the phone, and move on to the next center on your list.

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.

Related Posts

Enjoying these insights?

Subscribe here, so you never miss an update!

Connect with Other Parents

We know parents need support, too. That is exactly why we offer a chance for parents of teens to connect virtually in a safe space! Each week parents meet to share resources and talk through the struggles of balancing child care, work responsibilities, and self-care.

More questions? We’re here for you.