Close this search box.
Close this search box.

How to Tell if a Teen Needs 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 >

If you worry your teen is getting off track this fall, you’re not alone.

Parents across the country understand that the stress and disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic can have a wide range of negative consequences for their teens. Shelter-in-place orders, social distancing guidelines, and virtual school all mean things teens previously took for granted no longer happen the way they did.

If they’re happening at all.

Depending on where you live, your teen may be missing:

  • Social contact that’s necessary for emotional and psychological development
  • In-person learning that’s necessary for timely academic development
  • Clubs and activities that open the world to teens and help them discover or develop interests or passions
  • Sports – school or club sponsored – that help teens stay healthy, have fun, relieve stress,  stay engaged in the community. For some, sports create scholarship opportunities for college.

As a parent, you might think your teen needs residential treatment. You might be absolutely sure, without any outside input. You may know it in your bones, because you see signs like these:

Teen Behavior: Red Flags

  • Moodiness or irritability that’s more than typical teen ups and downs
  • Sadness that lasts every day for more than two weeks
  • Problems engaging in or staying focused on virtual school
  • Significant drop in grades
  • Inability to get motivated for virtual school
  • Isolation for family and friends – i.e. they’re not engaging with family or texting/chatting/talking on the phone with peers
  • Self-harming behaviors such as cutting, burning, biting, pinching, scratching, or hitting (not a complete list)
  • Alcohol or substance use that teens may engage in to help handle the uncomfortable feelings or emotions related to mental health disorders

But before you make a major decision like sending your teenager to residential treatment, your teen needs a formal assessment administered by a psychiatrist, therapist, or counselor trained in adolescent behavioral health and addiction.

Here are five signs the experts will look for during an assessment:

Five Signs Your Teen Needs Residential Rehab

1. Outpatient Treatment Does Not Work

If your teen has tried outpatient, intensive outpatient, or partial hospitalization programs without success, the next logical step is residential treatment.

2. Lack of Appropriate Support

You may have done everything within your power to help your teen. However, you’re probably not a trained professional. It’s also unlikely you can dedicate every moment of every day to helping your teen manage their symptoms. If you’ve tried everything from outpatient to intensive outpatient to partial hospitalization programs, it might be time for a more robust approach to treatment.

3. Repeated Relapse

If your teen has drug issues and has tried and failed at getting and staying drug-free, residential treatment might be the best option. The same goes for mental health disorders. If your teen has tried outpatient, intensive outpatient, or partial hospitalization programs but has not been able to manage their symptoms, residential treatment might be the next step.

4. Dual Diagnosis

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 best way to identify the root cause of their challenges.

5. Safety

If behavior is escalating in a way that creates a safety risk for you, your teen, or members of your family, then 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, after consulting a mental health professional and reviewing the criteria above, that a residential treatment program is a necessary and appropriate step, then it’s time to find a treatment center that matches your family needs. This process should not be taken lightly. Your search should be deliberate, thorough, and comprehensive. To help in your search for a treatment center that meets your family needs, read our article “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.

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.