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What is a Recovery High School? 

does recovery high school work

Recovery high schools are designed for teenagers who are recovering from a substance use disorder or co-occurring disorders. Keep reading to learn more about this care option for your teen. 

Adolescence is a time of exploration, peer-bonding, and self-discovery. Unfortunately, it is also the time in which many teenagers will try drugs and alcohol. According to the latest Monitoring the Future survey, more than half of teens have drank alcohol – and over 40 percent have used an illicit drug – by their senior year in high school. While for some teens, this is just mere experimentation, for others, repeated drug use can spiral into a substance use disorder. And for many teens, substance use can trigger an array of social, legal, behavioral, emotional, and academic problems. 

Perhaps that is why you are here. Your teenager may be facing a problem with drugs and alcohol, and its spiraled out of control. You may be looking for a solution to ensure they get the help they need, without pressing pause on their education or goals.  

On the other end of the spectrum, your teenager might be in recovery from a substance use disorder. You may have been through treatment previously, and are wondering what else you can do to keep them on the right path. No matter your circumstances, you may have landed on a common option or teens: Recovery high school. 

What is a Recovery High School? 

A recovery high school is an academic-focused, continuing care program designed for adolescents who are recovering from substance use disorders. Every recovery high school is unique in its approach and organization, but all share the common goal of educating and supporting teens in recovery from substance abuse or co-occurring disorders. 

Recovery high schools may be standalone institutions, or be embedded within an affiliate school. They offer diplomas like any other high school, and are therefore a great option for adolescents who require ongoing support and structure, while finishing their secondary education. Recovery high schools only enroll students who are actively in addiction recovery and working on staying abstinent from drugs and alcohol. This makes these schools a safe and temptation-free environment for students to recover, rebuild, and thrive. 

How Do Recovery High Schools Work? 

Recovery high schools work to make education accessible for teenagers struggling with drug or alcohol problems. Too often, teenagers do not get the treatment they need because they are afraid of putting their lives on hold. Recovery schools enable them to continue their academic trajectory in a safe, sober, supportive environment. 

Recovery high schools are equipped with a faculty of teachers, substance abuse counselors, and mental health experts. These professionals work together to support teens in their healing journey, as well as educate families who are supporting their teen’s sober life. In addition to providing a safe space and comprehensive high school curriculum, these schools work to ensure students stay on a healthy path. This is done by offering recovery meetings, wellness activities, and facilitating access to rehabilitation and treatment, for teens who relapse.  

However, it’s important to note that recovery high schools are not treatment programs for substance use disorders. As explained by the Association of Recovery Schools, the main mission of a recovery high school is to educate students in recovery from substance abuse. In contrast, alcohol and drug treatment centers are designed to treat substance use disorders through clinical and therapeutic modalities.  

In other words, recovery high schools are purely educational institutions, but dedicated to a specific student demographic. Any student who is in recovery from substance use (and who meets any state eligibility requirements) can attend a recovery high school – they do not need to be enrolled in a treatment program, too.  

As such, recovery high schools are typically viewed as a continuing care option for teenagers in recovery. Teens battling a substance use disorder will ideally complete a rehabilitation program, inpatient or outpatient, as the first step in their recovery journey. An addiction treatment program will provide the clinical and evidence-based therapies needed to help them: 

  • Understand the root of their substance use 
  • Cope with difficult cravings and triggers 
  • Prioritize their mental health and well-being 
  • Develop the life skills to maintain a sober life 

Teens will often attend a recovery high school to complete their diploma after graduating from a treatment program. Some teenagers will attend a recovery high school in tandem with an outpatient rehab program, too. This gives them the benefit of both worlds: A safe, sober learning environment, as well as essential therapy and clinical support to overcome their substance disorder. 

Recovery-Informed Academics at Turnbridge 

As explained in a recent NPR article, recovery schools offer the opportunity for teens to connect with peers and receive mutual aid, in “a supervised and structured way.” This is core to the recovery process for teenagers, who often rely on peer-to-peer relationships. However, there are other parts of the recovery process that are equally important. As echoed by Dr. Sharon Levy, a pediatrician and addiction medicine specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital, there are two other components to effective treatment: the clinical or medical intervention, as well as the emotional support and counseling. And these often need to be precursors to the recovery school enrollment, to set the stage for success. 

This is the core difference between a substance use treatment program for teenagers, and a recovery high school. Treatment programs are bolstered by certified clinicians and mental health professionals who have specialized training in adolescent recovery. Treatment programs offer a range of medication-assisted therapies and behavioral modalities to help teens overcome substance use disorders. These include counseling, group therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, recreational therapy, and more. 

If your teenager is actively battling issues with substance abuse, a treatment program is the recommended first step. 

Of course, signing up for a treatment program is not easy. We understand why so many teens, and/or their parents, have hesitations. It requires stepping away from mainstream life, including the traditional high school experience, to get dedicated attention and support. This can be scary, but it’s important for families to know that treatment does not need to mean a step back.  

Some addiction treatment programs help teenagers continue on their academic trajectory throughout rehab, even in residential settings. At Turnbridge, for example, academics is a core component of our teen rehab programs. Turnbridge Academy is a recovery-informed educational program that ensures teenagers and young adults can continue to reach academic goals while receiving treatment.  

For high school students in recovery, Turnbridge offers several services. 

First, we can coordinate an arrangement with your teen’s high school to enable them to continue learning while away. Turnbridge teens often earn their high school diplomas by completing the curriculum at a distance. This can sometimes be done online through the high school. Alternatively, the school may send course materials to Turnbridge Academy, where our team of Academic Advisors will develop an educational plan for the student, teach the curriculum, and coordinate assignments. 

At Turnbridge Academy, students also have the opportunity to begin planning for college. In fact, we have partnerships with several, exceptional colleges who are ready to welcome students in recovery. 

Learn more about our academic services here. 

Turnbridge Academy is not a recovery high school, but rather an academic-focused program for our clients who are in recovery and being treated for substance use, mental health, and co-occurring disorders. If your teenager is in need of treatment, consider Turnbridge as your starting point. We will help to ensure your teen gets on a healthy path, while maintaining their academic success. 

Call 877-581-1793 to learn about our programs for adolescents today.