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Do Recovery High Schools Really Work?

The teenage years are a tumultuous period where peer and social pressures can be an enormous burden to shoulder. For those teens who are recovering from drug and alcohol abuse, being thrown back into social situations where old friends continue to use drugs can be a frightening prospect. For those who are struggling with teenage drug addiction, there are an increasing number of recovery high schools that are opening nationwide. These recovery schools provide a safe alternative for teenagers who are in recovery.

What is a Recovery High School?

Recovery high schools are high schools that are focused on serving those students who are in active recovery from drugs and alcohol. The formation of these schools were in response to the high rates of relapse seen in young people who completed drug treatment and fell back into old patterns of behavior once they resumed their schooling. The first recovery high school were founded in Minnesota in the late 1980’s and since then nine states have opened 22 more recovery schools in order to better serve the teenage addict.

What Are the Requirements for Students to Enter A Recovery High School?

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For students who seek admission to a recovery high school, they must have completed an adolescent addiction treatment program and also demonstrate a willingness to continue working a program of recovery.  During the admissions process students must be able to clearly define their program of recovery as well as participate in recovery-based activities outside of the classroom. These activities can include:

  • Attending AA and NA meetings
  • Group and/or individual counseling sessions conducted after school
  • Family therapy
  • Individual counseling with a school recovery counselor

Additionally, these students must also satisfactorily complete all of the academic requirements required by the school district. The curriculum taught as recovery high schools are a combination of traditional academic courses, varied elective courses and recovery-centered groups and classes that meet on a daily basis. These schools are also structured for family involvement, from the intake process, parents’ nights and regular access to teachers and staff.

The Benefits of Recovery High Schools

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The main benefit of recovery high schools is they provide a safe and secure environment where recovering teens can be surrounded by peers who are dealing with similar issues. Recovery high schools also have a zero-tolerance policy regarding drug use and have clear consequences if there are instances of relapse. Recovery high schools also offer students a great chance to complete their education when they might have otherwise dropped out or been expelled. While some recovery high schools are based in 12-Step groups, they employ different counseling and therapeutic models as well as academic curriculum that can fit any student’s learning style and recovery program.

The Drawbacks of Recovery High Schools

One of the main drawbacks for students who attend recovery high schools may the stigma attached to being a teenage addict. Since many of these schools are located in close proximity to regular high schools, students may be labelled unfairly before getting the chance to found out who they truly are beyond their past drug use. While the total enrollment at recovery high schools are kept between 30 and 90 students, students from different grades of often grouped together which can cause conflicts. Many recovery schools are housed in alternative high schools which have students who may be active drug users, which forces staff to find ways in physically separating these groups of students.

Do Recovery High Schools Work?

While there has been no definitive research regarding the effectiveness of recovery high schools, there have been smaller studies which have been done that show promising results. In an article which was published this past May on the website Pacific Standard:

“…Andrew Finch, assistant professor of counseling at Vanderbilt University, says that outcome studies find the reverse of what research on typical teen treatment like 30-day rehabs and intensive-outpatient programs shows: After treatment, about 70 percent of kids who return to their communities relapse within six months to a year; but after attending recovery schools, only about 30 percent relapse.

Additionally, recovery schools state that students who attend recovery high schools experience higher grade point averages and have higher attendance in comparison to those students in recovery who attend traditional high schools. While more studies need to be conducted on the value of these schools for students active in recovery, parents may consider this option once their teenager completes drug treatment.

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