Outpatient Programs

Teens enrolled in a residential program for addiction move out of their homes and into a treatment facility for a specific period of time. It’s an intensive form of care in which the teen is completely taken away from their peers and daily stresses in order to allow the teen to focus almost exclusively on the addiction issue. While this form of intensive care may be helpful or even necessary for some teens, it’s not the sort of care that all teens need. In fact, some teens may benefit from outpatient programs. While they may still be completely engaged with their addiction issue, actively learning how to control the problems they face, they will continue to live at home.

Understanding Outpatient Care

It’s a common misconception that outpatient care programs are somehow easier and do not require the teen to commit significant amounts of time and effort toward recovery. The truth is, however, that outpatient programs can require a substantial time commitment, and they can be just as challenging as an inpatient program.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, people who enroll in an outpatient program are required to spend at least nine hours per week in some form of therapy.

This requirement may diminish if the person continues to perform well in therapy, but some programs may require an even greater time commitment. At the beginning of the program, the teen will be matched with a counselor who will manage the case and work as the teen’s primary caregiver. In consultation with the family, the counselor and the teen will develop a treatment program, and they will sketch out a rough timetable for treatment completion. In general, most people spend at least 12 weeks in treatment, with some attending treatment on an ongoing basis for six months or more, according to SAMHSA.

Care Provided

By splitting teens into groups, and addressing all of them as one unit, the therapist can address addiction education, of course, but the group might be asked to role-play, to learn skills they can use when:

  • Offered drugs or alcohol
  • Placed in high-stress situations
  • Surrounded by others who are using
  • Feeling tempted to numb anger or sadness with drugs or alcohol

Teens who are recovering from addictions to substances such as heroin or prescription painkillers may need medication therapy in order to keep their cravings under control. This medication may be provided via prescription, as long as the teen produces clean urine samples upon subsequent visits, but some programs require teens to take their medications within the clinic’s walls, while the medical team supervises. Teens who are prone to abusing their medications might benefit from this level of supervision.

Most outpatient programs provide some sort of one-on-one counseling for the teen, but outpatient programs may also rely on a significant amount of group therapy.

Some programs also require teens to attend support group meetings in the 12-step model pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous. These groups may include teens who are all in the same stage of recovery, or the groups may include teens from multiple stages of the journey to sobriety.

Does It Work?

Experts often caution that a teen’s success or failure in rehabilitation programs is often dependent on issues far outside the program’s control, such as:

  • The teen’s willingness to change
  • The history of substance abuse the teen has endured, and how engrained those habits have become
  • The teen’s access to friends who are sober
  • The teen’s access to family support

In general, however, outpatient programs for addiction have been remarkably effective in helping teens learn the lessons they’ll need to stay sober. For example, a study in the journal Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice found that 32 percent of adolescents had maintained abstinence a year after outpatient treatment ended. It might be true that some teens did not improve during this first treatment program, but addiction is often a chronic condition in which relapse is not only possible, but likely. Since these teens had received care, they may relapse only for a short period, and then return to treatment to brush up on the lessons they learned during their first attempt at therapy. Outpatient programs make these touch-up sessions easy to schedule.

If you believe an outpatient program is the best format for your teen, please contact us at Teen Rehab. We have several programs available that can help your teen while he or she continues to live at home, under your careful watch. Please contact us today.