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Why Your Teen Might Need Specialized Rehab

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Our knowledge of substance use disorders continues to evolve with time. There is now strong evidence that underage drinking, perhaps America’s most destructive rite of passage, is worse than we initially thought it was. Given that Massachusetts is the nation’s leader in underage drinking, parents who have teens enrolled in one of the state’s many colleges and universities should probably take heed.

We’ve long known that among adults with substance use disorders (SUD), about 90 percent of them started experimenting with different substances in their teens. Adults with this typical pattern of drug and alcohol use generally also find it much harder to quit compared with adults who started later in life, as fully-fledged adults. Boston rehab centers also report higher relapse rates among individuals who started substance misuse in their teens.

Why underage drinking and drug use is especially problematic

The reason for this may come down to human brain plasticity at different life stages. Since time immemorial, we’ve long known that younger people tend to pick up certain skills and get certain behavioral patterns down more easily than older people. We now know this is largely because connections are more easily created in the rapidly developing brains of children and adolescents. These connections then become more rooted as the brain ages and loses plasticity. 

While this rapid early development allows younger people to more easily develop critical life skills, it also allows traumatic experiences and problematic behavioral patterns to become more entrenched throughout one’s life. Drug and alcohol use rapidly cause the creation of “bad” pathways within younger brains, which become harder to address as they age.

What’s more, there is considerable evidence that shows that biological adolescence and the associated brain plasticity last much longer than was previously thought. Rather than ending at 18 or 19 as one might expect, in reality, the brain is usually only mature at 25. This means that, if possible, any experimental drug or alcohol use should be postponed until later in adulthood, if not avoided altogether.

Reasons young people with SUD need special rehab programs

Fortunately, it is possible to recover from a substance use disorder at any age. However, younger people, especially teens and children, should only be enrolled in specialized rehab programs intended for people in their age group. If you’re looking for a rehab program for your child, here are some reasons they will benefit more from a specialized program. 

1.) Teens tend to respond better when among peers

Choosing a special rehab program ensures that your teen will be with other teens, or at least, other individuals very close to them in age. This means that they are less likely to feel like an outcast than they would in a program that primarily serves older adults. This also means that their group therapy companions are more likely to understand and relate to their problems, which often helps your teen become more involved in the rehab process than they otherwise would be.

2.) Therapists are better able to earn your teen’s trust

It’s extremely common for people with all kinds of mental health issues to have problems sharing their problems with their therapists. This is especially true for substance use disorders, thanks to the shame and the social baggage associated with it. Younger people also tend to be less trusting of older people who they perceive to be indifferent to their problems.

By choosing a program designed for younger people, you ensure that these issues with sharing are not as relevant to your teen. Therapists and other clinicians in these programs have the training needed to relate better with younger people, which gives them a better shot at earning your teen’s trust. This, in turn, improves the chances of the treatment and therapy having better outcomes.

3.) Specialized programs have better success rates

According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health, adolescent-specific drug and alcohol rehab programs had higher success rates compared to more generalized counterparts. This should be no surprise, as it has long been known that SUD treatment tends to have more success when a more individualized approach is taken.

It should be noted that teens and young adults are not the only groups with specialized rehab programs available to them. There are also programs for women, mothers, healthcare workers, as well as for seniors, and people with co-occurring mental health issues. Compared to more general programs, specialized programs can be more consistent at homing in on special issues that are important to the people they serve. This allows them to be more effective than they otherwise would be if they used a more general approach.


Sending your teen to rehab may not be easy, but it may be for the best. By addressing a potential drug or alcohol use issue earlier, you can prevent them from developing a more serious SUD, which can be more difficult and expensive to treat, especially when they become full-fledged adults. As always, Boston Drug Treatment Centers can help you find the right program for your teen or any other loved one. Good luck, and be well!

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