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Teenage Rehab Centers in California: How to Choose the Right Program for Your Child

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 your teenager has an alcohol or substance use disorder – a.k.a. a drinking problem or a drug addiction problem – and they need a teen rehab center, it may be difficult to know where to find the best available support. Teen rehab comes in many forms. Generally speaking, most teen treatment centers offer treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), substance use disorder (SUD), cannabis use disorder (CUD), and illicit drug abuse problems. Specialty teen rehab centers have programs for co-occurring mental health disorders teens may experience along with addiction, including depressive disorders, behavioral disorders, and mood or conduct disorder.

That means you have an array of options from which to choose.

But how do you know which option is the best fit for your teen and your family?

How do you know what kind of treatment your teenager needs?

And once you know what kind of treatment they need, how do you separate high-quality programs from programs that are not high-quality?

The answer lies in evidence-based research: teen addiction experts have identified nine key components common to the most well-respected teen rehab treatment centers.

There’s something else to understand when you’re looking for a teen rehab center, in addition to learning about the nine key components. Parents seeking a teen rehab center should understand something called Levels of Care.

What Are Levels of Care?

Level of Care means a combination of two things:

  1. The amount of treatment your teen receives
  2. The relative intensity/degree of immersion involved in the treatment

There are four common levels of care. We’ll list them from the least intensive and immersive to the most intensive and immersive:


In outpatient teen rehab, parents take teens to an office visit once or twice a week. This is a typical entry level of treatment for a teen who needs help and support with alcohol or drug use, but whose issues do not significantly disrupt their ability to function in school and do not significantly impair their family or peer relationships.

Intensive Outpatient.

These programs are called Intensive Outpatient Programs – IOP for short. In a teen IOP rehab, adolescents attend treatment for a half-day, three to five days a week. This level of rehab for teens is appropriate for teens with addiction problems that are significant enough to disrupt day-to-day living, but can still live at home and/or go to school.

Partial Hospitalization.

These programs are called Partial Hospitalization Programs – PHP for short. In a teen PHP rehab center, adolescents attend treatment for a full day, five days a week. This level of teen treatment is appropriate for teens with alcohol or drug addiction issues that are significant enough to disrupt day-to-day living. Teens in PHP rehab typically do not go to school or work while receiving this level of care, but do continue to live at home.

Residential Treatment.

These programs occur at Residential Treatment Centers – RTC for short. This level of rehab is appropriate for teens with addiction issues so severe they need 24/7 support and monitoring. Teens who attend a residential teen rehab center do not live at home and need a high degree of support in order to start on their addiction recovery journey.

The Nine Key Components

In 2003, researchers identified nine components common to the most well-respected teen rehab centers operating in the United States. That original research included the best practices that apply to substance use disorder treatment for teens. A follow-up paper published in 2017 indicated that these same components also apply to teen rehab centers that treat teenagers with co-occurring mental health disorders and alcohol or drug addiction.

The most well-respected teen rehab treatment programs in the U.S. include:

1. Evaluation and Custom Plans

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

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

If a teen rehab center does not perform an initial evaluation and offer individualized plans, then they’re not offering the best possible care.

2. Complete Treatment

Once an evaluation is complete, a top-quality teenage rehab center must use the evaluation to create an individualized, custom plan that accounts for all the mental, physical, and emotional issues identified – a plan that addresses alcohol or drug addiction only is not enough.

3. Family Participation

Individual plans must include the family – including parents, grandparents, and siblings – primary caregivers, and any other 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 treatment outcomes for the teenager.

4. Age-Specific Programming

Therapeutic modalities 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. Teen rehab 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. Involvement and Time-in-Treatment

Teenage rehab centers must make a genuine effort to build trust, cooperation, and commitment from teens struggling with addiction. Increasing time in treatment increases the likelihood of successful treatment. Therefore, 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 and engaged teen will commit to the treatment process sooner and stick with it longer – which dramatically increases their chances of sustained sobriety and long-term health.

6. Trained, Licensed, Professional Treatment Team

Teen rehab center staff must receive specific training in adolescent treatment. Anyone involved in the recovery process must be trained in adolescent development, adolescent addiction issues, and have clinical experience addressing co-occurring mental and emotional disorders.

7. Culture and Gender

The staff at teenage rehab centers must understand and serve the various needs of the entire population. Clinicians must be aware of and trained in treatment practices specific to boys, girls, LGBTQI individuals, and cultural/ethnic minorities.

8. Full Continuum of Care

Teenage rehab centers must include practical, effective, proactive aftercare plans and evidence-based long-term sobriety strategies. Successful post-treatment plans include family participation, continuing outpatient therapy, peer support, and ongoing access to community-based options such as AA, NA, SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery, or similar 12-step programs.

9. Treatment Outcomes

Teenage rehab centers must perform a consistent and timely evaluation of therapeutic modalities and treatment outcomes. Programs must fully commit to an ongoing process of assessment, review, and improvement. That’s how they keep pace with current best practices and increase the overall likelihood of success for their teenage clients.

Whether you’re looking for a rehab center for teen alcohol addiction, a rehab center for teen drug addiction, or a rehab center for teenagers with co-occurring disorders, any teenage rehab center you choose should offer the components listed above. If they don’t you should keep searching until you find one that does.

The Next Step: Finding a Teenage Rehab Center in California

Get online and look for teen rehab centers that specialize in adolescent addiction treatment. Carefully review their websites to confirm their programs contain all the elements mentioned above. When it comes to treatment, you want the best. You don’t want to settle on a program that doesn’t meet or exceed best industry practices. Evidence shows rehab centers with these elements work.

Once you narrow your list down to a short list of potential prospects, get on the phone – with the list above right at hand – and start screening them. Go over every element above identified by the experts as essential and ask specific questions about each one. If the teenage rehab center you’re talking to doesn’t include all of them, or they can’t give you clear answers with regards to the nine essential components, they make your job easier. Thank them for their time, hang up the phone, and move on to the rehab 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.

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