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Residential Treatment Centers for Youth & Teens

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What are Residential Treatment Centers for Youth?

Residential treatment (RT) centers are intensive, full-time inpatient programs that offer support for teens struggling with emotional, educational, and behavioral challenges.

Residential treatment programs are recommended for teens who did not succeed in an outpatient program or who need support following inpatient psychiatric care.

RT participants live at the treatment facility, where trained professionals supervise and monitor them. They receive customized treatment, which includes:

  • Comprehensive evaluations to assess social, emotional, educational, behavioral, and medical needs
  • Individualized treatment plan
  • Individual and group counseling sessions
  • Psychiatric care
  • Emotional and behavioral support

Some states require licensure or accreditation for residential teen treatment centers. Parents interested in pursuing this type of treatment for their children should look into requirements to learn more. 

State licensing and accreditation of a residential treatment center offers a level of protection. It ensures a governing authority has evaluated the center and continues to do so on an ongoing basis.

There are several independent accrediting organizations, including:

  1. Joint Commission (JACHO)1
  2. Council on Accreditation (COA)2
  3. Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF)3

How Do RTC Programs for Youth Work?

Residential treatment center programs work in much the same way as other inpatient addiction treatment programs. 

There are many different therapy approaches used for treating substance use. Participants have access to a variety of support, including:

  • Group counseling
  • Individual counseling
  • Education
  • Behavioral modification
  • Trigger recognition
  • Relapse prevention
  • Mental health care support

Supervised Support

Children in residential programs spend their day engaged in structured activities. Staff supervise participants and help them achieve their treatment goals. 

They also help children make positive changes in their lives, even if those changes aren’t directly related to addiction.

Socialization is another important part of residential treatment. Kids are surrounded by peers who are struggling with many of the same issues. They also get to have fun and “be kids,” all while working on treating their addiction.

Many people believe that residential programs are more effective than outpatient treatment. This is because participants are removed from outside influences and triggers. 

RT also provides the family with time apart from the child so they can regroup and work on building a stronger support system.

School Options During RTC Programs

Many treatment centers also offer transition support once a child completes the program. This helps them readjust to life at home and school. 

The transition phase ensures the child gets the support they need once full-time treatment is over. 

Most residential treatment centers require participants to continue schooling during treatment. This ensures they do not fall behind on their schoolwork even though they are missing a significant portion of the school year. They receive academic support and time to study. 

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How to Know if Your Child Needs Treatment for Alcoholism

Residential treatment centers offer young people an intensive approach to healing. Not everyone needs this level of treatment. However, for young people with ongoing issues with substance use, residential treatment can be life-changing.

Residential treatment centers are long-term programs that last from 6 to 18 months. They are most appropriate for teens in need of long-term support for serious disorders, including:

  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Various personality disorders

They are also ideal for children who are: 

  • Using drugs or alcohol
  • Getting into a lot of trouble at school
  • Experiencing other emotional or behavioral problems

Often, teens in RTC have one or more co-occurring disorders or a combination of the above issues.

Teens with suicidal ideation (suicidal thoughts) or severe depression also benefit from RTC.

But, how do you know if your child needs treatment for alcoholism, residential or otherwise? Some of the signs of a substance use disorder (SUD) include:

Changes in Physical Appearance

Alcohol use creates physical symptoms. These include: 

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Increase or decrease in pupil size
  • An untidy appearance
  • Weight changes 

Alcohol use might also affect your child’s appetite or sleeping patterns.

Changes in Behavior

If your child is neglecting his or her personal hygiene, favorite hobbies, or old friends, it might be a sign they are using alcohol. This is especially true if this was a sudden or gradual change.

Behavioral changes can indicate a variety of different issues, aside from alcohol use. Sometimes kids outgrow hobbies or friends. 

Other times they are struggling with mental health issues, but haven’t turned to alcohol or drugs to deal with their challenges.

But in some cases, changes in behavior indicate a problem with substance use. Many young adults who use alcohol drift away from activities they once enjoyed. They turn their focus on obtaining and drinking alcohol.

Neglecting Responsibilities

In addition to neglecting hobbies, friends, and health, children who are drinking might also neglect their school and family obligations.

If your child is suddenly skipping school or getting bad grades, it could be a sign of alcohol use.

This doesn’t mean that one failed test or skipping classes one day means your child has a drinking problem. There might also be other reasons for your child’s sudden desire to miss school. 

It’s important to recognize that substance use can sometimes play a role in a child’s sudden neglect of responsibilities.

Mood Changes

Hormonal changes that occur during preadolescence and adolescence tend to affect mood. It’s fairly common for teens to experience mood swings. 

However, mood changes that are drastic and potentially violent could indicate alcohol use. 

Talking to Your Child About Alcohol Dangers & Rehab

Discussing your concerns about alcohol and whether or not your child needs rehab is a difficult conversation. 

Most people with substance use disorders (SUDs), regardless of age, are defensive when approached about their drinking.

Be understanding and compassionate, but also take a leadership role when discussing alcohol risks and rehab with your teen.

The following tips can help you broach the subjects of drinking and rehab with your child:

1. Communicate

Speak to your child about your concerns. Use a neutral tone and try not to be angry or frustrated.

If necessary, contact an intervention specialist to help with the conversation.

2. Listen

Allow your child to talk and share their point of view, even if you don’t agree with it.

3. Share

Prepare information to share with your child about treatment. Discuss available treatment options by researching facilities in advance.

Remind them that continued use of alcohol can lead to serious consequences, including legal problems.

4. Create Consequences

Explain the consequences if they refuse treatment. This can include taking away driving privileges, restricting time alone or with friends, or monitoring their communication.

5. Help

Acknowledge that you’re willing to participate in their treatment and address any family issues that might be contributing to their alcohol use.

Discussing your child’s alcohol use is understandably upsetting. However, it’s important that your child knows you want to help them. Accepting your help can prevent a variety of future problems.

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Choosing the Right Alcohol Rehab Program for Your Teen 

There are several things to look for when choosing an alcohol rehab program for your child. 

For example, does the program:

  • Allow parents to participate and offer family counseling?
  • Offer developmentally appropriate treatment approaches?
  • Employ specially trained staff with experience working with children and teens?
  • Customize treatment to your child’s specific needs?
  • Help your child feel safe and comfortable?
  • Offer a comprehensive treatment approach that also addresses co-occurring disorders?
  • Provide aftercare and relapse prevention?
  • Track patient outcomes and have evidence that their treatment approaches are effective?
  • Have licensing/accreditation?
  • Offer an educational program?
  • Employee staff with CPR/First Aid training?
  • Use a method of discipline your family is comfortable with?
Updated on March 29, 2022
8 sources cited
  1. Behavioral Health Care.” www.jointcommission.org.
  2. Home.” Council on Accreditation.
  3. CARF International, www.carf.org, “Commission on the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.” Carf.org, 2019.
  4. CDC. “CDC - Fact Sheets-Underage Drinking - Alcohol.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018.
  5. NIAAA. “Underage Drinking | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).” Nih.gov, 2017.
  6. Attilia, Fabio, et al. “Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: Diagnostic and Therapeutic Methods.” Rivista Di Psichiatria, vol. 53, no. 3, 1 May 2018.
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Alcohol Addiction.” National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  8. Harvard Health Publishing. “Alcohol Abuse - Harvard Health.” Harvard Health, Harvard

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