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Teen Addiction Treatment Overview

There are so many different programs out there from hospitals to hiking trips, residential to outpatient or some combination of them all. Helping your troubled teen is not a one-size-fits-all situation and every program has its pros and cons. Let’s take a look at some of the different types of programs and what they offer.

Troubled Girl

Psychiatric Treatment Programs (Hospitalization)

This is generally in a hospital setting and is a short-term solution when you believe that your child’s life is in danger. They are in a lock-down unit with no access to sharp objects and 24/7 supervision. Patients are stabilized temporarily and are usually released within a week or less. Generally, very little therapeutic growth happens in this short time period, so it is highly recommended to follow hospitalization up immediately with another form of care.

Wilderness Therapy Programs

Wilderness therapy involves teens spending 1–3 contiguous months in a backcountry setting. During their stay in wilderness, teens learn survival and camping skills, get lots of physical activity, and can do deep therapeutic work.

Wilderness therapy can be a life-changing intervention for those who can afford it. Be prepared to seek out “aftercare”, as it is often called, which can be any of the following treatment options.


Benefits of a Wilderness Program

There are many benefits of wilderness therapy:

  • Teens are removed from the environment that triggered their behaviors and can take a “time-out” free from the pressures of home and the constant presence of technology.
  • Teens are under 24/7 supervision, so it is a good option for adolescents struggling with cutting or suicidal ideation.
  • The combination of being outside, getting physical exercise every day and daily self-discovery through therapeutic interventions empowers teens. Most people graduate from wilderness therapy programs saying that they feel better about themselves than they ever have before.

Downsides to a Wilderness Program

  • While wilderness is said to be a therapeutic pressure cooker, it is most effective when followed up with some form of continuing care. Teens coming back from their wilderness experience need guidance to adapt their new selves back into the fast-paced world or many of their old patterns will return.
  • Wilderness programs are expensive and, currently, insurance offers little help in paying for this form of treatment.
  • Another aspect of wilderness is that it removes the struggling teen from the family dynamic. This can be a relief and give both the parents and the teen a chance to do some work on themselves before stepping back into the arena of the relationship. On the flip side, there is probably still work to be done on family relationships when your teen gets back.
Kids In Classroom

Therapeutic Boarding School

These are private boarding schools that run year-round with higher levels of supervision than regular boarding school. These schools include therapeutic activities such as equine therapy, outdoor adventures and counseling to complement the academics.

This can be a good option for a teen who has gotten behind in school due to their behaviors or a stay in a wilderness therapy program. The typical stay at therapeutic boarding school is between 6 months and 2 years.

There are many different therapeutic boarding schools around the country and each one offers a slightly different experience and focus. Some are co-ed, and many are gender-specific and may even specialize on a single issue, such as eating disorders for teenage girls.

This option is also quite expensive. Sending your kid to a therapeutic boarding school removes them from the family dynamic, which has pros and cons in itself. If you can afford it and think that your relationship would benefit from some distance, this can be a great treatment option.

Teens Support Group

Residential Treatment Center

The focus at a residential treatment center (RCT) is on behavior and safety with little or no academic support. This option can range from a full lockdown facility to a sober living house, where clients can come and go at certain times.

RTCs are a good option for maintaining tight supervision and can be more affordable than a boarding school. RTCs can provide supervision and support for your teen when living at home is not an option for them anymore.

Denver Treatment Center

Outpatient Treatment Programs

Outpatient programs for teens offer a comprehensive program without removing teens from their homes. Good programs will support the whole family, so that parents learn how to support their teens in a way which aligns with the treatment they are receiving. Outpatient programs have the benefit of being able to offer care that fits around school, making it less disruptive. Most teens will gradually decrease the number of hours per week spent in outpatient treatment, allowing for a gradual reduction of care as they stabilize.

For the most acute situations, outpatient programs do not provide enough containment and supervision, as the teens have to show up in order to receive support. Outpatient programs can be a sensible next step after one of the residential options listed above.

Girl On Bed

Transitional Living

Transitional living is an option for teens who cannot live at home to get support. These programs are designed to help homeless youth with a place to stay and life-skills support at no cost to them. Most programs can provide psychological and substance use evaluations and support. Transitional living is an amazing option for teens with limited to no options.

While transitional living programs offer remarkable services to those in the greatest need, they should be seen as a last resort. Like homeless shelters, they are doing their best to support as many people as possible on limited resources. For teens who are able to work with their families even a little bit, other options will be able to provide more in-depth care.

One On One attention


Almost everyone could benefit from a good counselor or therapist. For struggling teens, it can be hard to find someone they trust. Finding the right person can make all the difference, so expect to try out a few options before settling for a counselor.

Counseling is generally only one session a week, or even less, so it does not provide enough support for high acuity needs. A therapist can complement other programs, provide support and assessment in the early stages of a teen’s struggles, or as a long-term follow up to an intensive program. Some counselors accept insurance, while others work only with private-pay clients.

How to Choose the Right Option

There are options for supporting troubled teens and many families use a combination of the options listed above. When parents are in the middle of trying to make a decision about what is best for their child, it can be stressful and overwhelming.

At Sandstone Care, our goal is to provide excellent support for teens struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues. We are happy to answer any questions and provide you with several treatment options if we are not the right fit for you.

Call 303-501-5804

We are available 7 days a week to help answer any questions.

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