Alcohol abuse is a rampant problem in America. No one is immune. It impacts everyone, including all ethnicities, genders, ages, and social classes. One key predictor of a longer term, adult alcohol problem is teen drinking. Teens who engage in risky binge drinking frequently develop into full-blown alcoholics, or their early habits form patterns for later coping. An adult who relies on alcohol to cope with life may develop a serious addiction. There is hope for this problem. Help is available.

For many years, there have been alcohol treatment centers that catered to teens and the specific issues they face. Enrollment in intensive inpatient programs is often a response to a particularly negative incident with drinking, or may arise from a watchful, mindful parent who rightly senses negative patterns in their son or daughter. Early intervention and treatment is often the key to stemming problems down the road.

The first step towards solving a teenage alcohol problem is to recognize that there is a problem to begin with. Not every parent is ready to come to terms with the fact that drinking is endangering your child’s life. Once you, the parent, have admitted that your teen is a problem drinker, you can open a dialogue with him or her. Perhaps you can arrive at a mutually agreed upon solution. If not, and the problem continues or exacerbates, you can move forward to seeking professional help.

How to find a teen treatment center

It is easy to open a web browser and search for a teen treatment center. However, it is not so easy to determine which one will best suit your son or daughter. They are not all created equally and you may like to see your teen receive specific sorts of help.

One of the best ways to focus your search and give yourself, and the rest of the family, peace of mind, is to consult a professional. Your first step might be to discuss matters with a drug and alcohol counselor. If you are a member of a church, you might take the matter up with your minister or priest. These professionals can help you begin to sort through your needs and narrow down the choices. There are treatment centers all over the United States and, depending on your location, your area may have multiple rehabs to choose from. Further, your counselor or clergyperson is sure to have contacts and colleagues who can help you in your search. In particular, you may need an interventionist who cannot only act as an intermediary with a rehab, but who can facilitate the initial confrontation.

Inpatient or outpatient?

One of the biggest first questions to ask is whether you want to send your teen to an inpatient or an outpatient center. An inpatient center will take your teen out of his environment and focus his attention solely on himself and his drinking problem. The treatment will begin after breakfast (if not before) and continue through the day. He will likely have time to exercise and eat, but most every second will be focused on sobriety.

If you are concerned that your child will fall behind in school, inpatient treatment centers usually have a way for your teen to continue his education. Though his time in treatment will likely only span a maximum of 90 days, it is vital that he continue to focus on school and creating a bright future.

An outpatient program, on the other hand, allows your teen to spend the night at home, to attend his normal school, and engage with his usual friends. However, he will have counseling sessions to attend throughout the week. Depending on the program, he will likely be drug tested on a regular basis, including over the weekend.

Parents who wish to keep their child nearby often consider an outpatient program. This is frequently a more affordable option, too. During an outpatient program, your child will still have the daily stressors and negative influences he's always had, but the program will help him sort through these problems and deal with them.


The location of your teen's rehab facility is likely to be an issue. Some can easily afford to send their child out of state to a highly specialized rehab, though most will want to stay closer to home. The benefits of a closer facility are clear, but you might want to consider finding a facility in the next town over.

When your teen enters a rehab in a different town, he will be less of risk to flee the facility. His friends will be far away, and he won't be as familiar with the local area. While this may seem like a dire concern, it is important to consider. Even if you don't think your son or daughter would ever resort to such an extreme measure, consider that they might meet charismatic others who are able to sway them to a negative path.

Religious focus

There are many rehab facilities that can accommodate your views on religion. You may find one that is particularly aligned with your faith, such as a Catholic-based rehab, or one that caters to Judaism. There are also teen treatment facilities that have no stated religious focus.

When you see treatment facilities that center their treatment on the 12-step model, be aware that this includes a spiritual aspect. However, it does not necessarily have to focus on any specific faith or creed. The 12-step model was created to be inclusive of people from all faiths, whether Western and otherwise.

Dual diagnosis

A dual diagnosis indicates a person who suffers from a mental illness on top of a substance abuse problem.

Your teen may be using alcohol as a way to medicate a mental illness. Even teens who are depressed use alcohol, a nervous system depressant, to ease their pain. If your teen is suffering a profound mental illness, that may impact which facilities are likely to provide adequate treatment. Most can likely handle depression or anxiety. A more profound disorder, such as schizophrenia or a bipolar disorder is likely to require a more advanced facility that employs psychiatrists on staff. If you feel this issue applies to your teen, please discuss it with an addiction specialist.

Duration of treatment

Generally speaking, rehabilitation programs last anywhere from 30 to 90 days. Keep in mind that the length of stay in treatment dramatically impacts the longer-term efficacy of the stay. That is, your teen has the best chance of success with a 90-day program. His chances further improve if he continues his recovery program beyond that point with life in a teen sober house, an outpatient program, or some comprehensive aftercare program.

Please weigh the cost of treatment against this important factor. Spending more or less time does not equal longer-term sobriety. Only more time and practice living as a sober individual can possibly pay off with longer-term sobriety. If your insurance covers a 90-day program at a facility, then please take advantage.

What happens to your teen during treatment

During treatment, your teen may start with a period of detoxification. If he has become a daily drinker, he may require professional supervision while his system adjusts to life without alcohol. This sort of issue can be sorted out prior to admission. If you have an interventionist, they can help you make this determination and make arrangements for detox.

Depending on your teen's inpatient program, his or her day might include any of the following:

  • High School courses
  • Relapse prevention class
  • Drugs education – to study the impact of drugs on the body and brain
  • Group counseling
  • Individual counseling
  • Physical activity
  • Family counseling
  • Art therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Men's group
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Meditation
  • Calisthenics/Yoga
  • Nature hikes

Though some of the activities at your teen's rehab may sound like fun, bear in mind that they all have a therapeutic value. After all, many alcoholics and addicts are initially introduced to their drugs of choice as a way to relax and have fun. If your teen learns how to recreate these feelings in a safe and healthy way without the use of toxic substances, then the treatment is successful.


Upon intake, your teen's physical and mental health is evaluated. At that point, their medications will be considered. Your child should never be denied any prescription he has received from a family doctor. If any changes are recommended, the facility will discuss this with you and involve your family physician if necessary. There will be a medical team on staff to write or refill any prescriptions as needed. Your teen will not miss any of his medications while he recovers from his drinking problem.

While in treatment, your child may require additional medication. Given that he is already considered somewhat of a risk for taking any mood-altering substances, these decisions are made very carefully, with your consultation. Typical medications your teen might require include sleeping aids or antibiotics, in case he comes down with a physical illness.

What is the family involvement?

While your teen in in treatment, you will want to be involved. You may be tempted to call the facility for regular updates. However, it will be most beneficial for you to follow the protocols set forth by the center itself.

Some centers may have regular family therapy sessions that you will be asked to attend. These sessions will help you and your teen sort through any communication, or other, issues you may have. These sessions are often quite intense and can be highly emotional, so please be prepared.

In the meantime, the family can attend Al-Anon and other 12-step meetings. This offshoot of Alcoholics Anonymous was founded by AA founder Bill W's wife, Lois. Her aim was to help the wives of alcoholics heal themselves and help the alcoholic in their life. Contemporary Al-Anon hosts friends, family members, husbands, and significant others of alcoholics.

In these meetings, you will find a fellowship of helpful individuals who have been through many of the same traumas as you. You can form a support network that can help you through the trying times of early recovery. For instance, if your teen suffers a relapse you might want to blame yourself. A support network will include people who have experienced the same troubles and can help you understand that it is not your fault, and lead you towards a helpful solution.

What to do after treatment

Once your teen has completed a treatment program, the work will really be starting. If your child has been in an inpatient facility, they will need to reintegrate to society. Old playmates and playgrounds will be a temptation, and old triggers and stressors will still be present. It's hoped that they will be better able to handle those people, places, and things. However, they will need a plan to do so.

While in treatment, your teen should formulate a plan for discharge. She can work with her counselor to create a strategy for building a support system. This will likely involve 12-step groups, but can also involve things such as meditation classes, physical activities, and enhanced involvement with their church, exploration of new spiritual avenues, and a wide range of healthy endeavors. Teens often try on many sorts of identities as they grow up. Let your teen explore new, healthy activities that will broaden their perspective on life and her place in it.

Inpatient teens might transition into a sober living house or to an outpatient program. Though this may seem punitive after they've already completed an inpatient program, keep in mind that the duration of treatment pays off in terms of long-term sobriety. Learning to live a drug-free, happy existence is not a punishment, but a privilege.

Depending on your local school system and your teen's individual story, it may be beneficial to find a new approach to education. You could have them attend a different high school, or perhaps they could finish their high school as a homeschooler. The new daily environment, fresh faces, and even the different building may allow them to re-establish themselves as a sober, well-adjusted person. Then, they won't have to compete with the expectations their old life cultivated.

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