Finding out that your teenager is addicted to drugs or drinking alcohol is one of the most terrifying and surreal experiences any parent can have. You’ve done your best to raise them well, provide for their needs, and protect them from the dangers of the teenage years, yet here you are. There’s nothing like the mixture of fear, bewilderment, and disappointment which accompanies a discovery like this. But there’s hope. In this day and age, there are tons of options available to help an addicted or alcoholic teenager, but most parents have no idea where to begin.

Too Early to Get Into Recovery?

A lot of parents and teenagers believe, incorrectly, that young people are “too young to get into recovery”. Parents often make the mistake of thinking their children are just “going through a phase” or “partying a little too much”, when the reality of the situation is much more grim. If a young person is experiencing addictive behavior with drugs or alcohol, it’s usually just the beginning. Addiction is a progressive illness and teenagers who are already displaying addictive tendencies are extremely unlikely to “grow out of it”. If a teenager has reached a point where they’re willing to get sober, parents should do everything they can to seize upon this opportunity. When a person gets sober young, they can avoid decades of misery and suffering which accompany untreated addiction. The key to getting sober at any point is that the addict or alcoholic is willing to make the change. As a parent, it can be incredibly frustrating watching your teenager crash headfirst through consequence after consequence without changing their behavior. They might even seem completely apathetic and uninterested in their own wellbeing. As their substance abuse continues, however, there’s almost certainly going to be times where they openly feel hopeless and crushed. Take advantage of these moments. If your teenager has a particularly bad run of things and you can see how empty they feel, talk to them about making a change. You’ll often find your son or daughter more receptive to recovery in their darkest hours.

Rehabs, Detoxes, & Institutions

If you’ve established a bit of willingness in your teenager, a recovery program can be an excellent place to start. You might be hesitant to send them directly to a long-term rehab, but fortunately there are progressive steps to take first.
  1. Detox – The usual first step for addicts is a detox facility. These can be either dedicated facilities or hospital wings specializing in detox and mental health. These programs can be intimidating but are usually very short-term and necessary for recovery. An addicted person needs to be completely free from the effects of substances in order to begin any meaningful recovery and they’ll usually need a safe, closed facility in which to accomplish this.
  2. Intensive Outpatient – A good option for an addicted teenager is the outpatient program. These programs typically require regular attendance for 6-8 hours a day for 3-5 days a week. Your son or daughter will be tested regularly, have access to case management and therapy, and learn some basic recovery skills like relapse prevention and anger management.
  3. Sober Living – For older teenagers, a sober living can be a great way to start recovery. While most of these programs are for people 18 and older, they offer an environment where your teenager will be surrounded by other recovering people. A sober community and regular drug testing will create the kind of accountability which can make all the difference in early recovery.
  4. Rehab – Full-blown rehab facilities can vary greatly in terms of length and intensity. You can find rehabs offering short-term programs (30-90 days) or much longer programs which take clients for a year or longer. This is typically the most intense option for addicts and longer programs are usually more effective. As such, it’s probably best to try the other options first and keep this in mind as a last resort.

Spiritual Programs

Most recovering alcoholics and addicts have found a spiritual component necessary for their recovery. It’s extremely common for addicts to have developed a certain cynicism regarding spirituality or religion. Fortunately, there are as many paths to spirituality as there are people on planet Earth.
    • Religious Programs – For teenagers with a religious background, there are tons of recovery plans centered around religion. For Christian teenagers, there are programs like Teen Challenge or Celebrate Recovery which emphasize sobriety and emotional change through the power of Jesus Christ. There are also Jewish programs, Muslim programs, and even Native American programs! Inquire with your local place of worship to learn more about programs which might suit your family.
    • 12-Step Programs – The most common approach to sustainable recovery is the 12-Step anonymous program. Programs like AA, NA, CMA, and CA are variants of the 12-step program, each dedicated to addicts and alcoholics with different backgrounds and drugs of choice. While there is a stigma that these are programs for “old people”, this has become increasingly untrue. There is a thriving young people’s community within these programs where your son or daughter would feel right at home. The 12-Step concept of a Higher Power is also very open to individual interpretation, making it ideal for agnostic teenagers or teenagers without a religious upbringing.
If you’ve just discovered that your son or daughter is using drugs or drinking, you’re probably going through a whirlwind of emotions. That’s completely normal, but you’re not alone. Finding the right help for your teenager can be a process of trial-and-error, so don’t lose hope. Thousands of addicts recover each year, and there are more solutions available now than ever before.