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Education Brings Hope to Teens in Substance Abuse Treatment
By Meghan Vivo
No matter how dire the need, parents are sometimes reluctant to enroll their teenager in a residential addiction treatment program because they fear their child will fall even further behind in school.
Parents are right to be concerned about their child’s academic performance. Success in school is vital for teens who are trying to get and stay sober. Research shows that doing well in school not only makes it easier for teens to succeed in college and a career, but it is also tied to self-esteem, social skills and overall happiness.
But when an adolescent is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, treatment is also critically important. Fortunately, parents and teens don’t have to choose between academic progress and the substance abuse treatment they need.
In order to help adolescents get caught up academically while receiving drug treatment, the Meadow Lodge at The Camp Recovery Center, an addiction treatment program for teens and adults in Scotts Valley, California, offers a fully accredited academic program.
A ‘Brick in the Wall of Sobriety’
Academics are an essential component of teen drug treatment. Teens at The Camp's Meadow Lodge receive individualized lesson plans and complete 20 hours of academic work each week. They also have the option to continue with independent study after finishing their drug treatment program, which allows them to live in a sober environment while doing schoolwork, attending 12-Step meetings, and working part-time or volunteering.
“Education is a brick in the wall of sobriety,” said Stephanie Spungen, a teacher who has educated teens at The Camp's Meadow Lodge for more than 12 years. “Going to school and developing a passion for learning helps teens set goals for the future and see the possibilities presented by a life of sobriety.”
As a result of her own struggles with substance abuse, Spungen knows firsthand that education can save a teen’s life.
“Growing up in a chaotic home, school was one place where I could really shine,” she said. “I believe that when you help teens find their passions and build on small successes, they are more likely to truly enjoy their lives without drugs or alcohol.”
The school program draws many teens and their families to The Camp. By attending classes during treatment, teens are able to earn enough credits to stay on track in school.
“Education promotes long-term sobriety by giving young people something to work toward and feel good about in their lives,” said Rebecca Cable, MS, CAP, ICRC, CST, the adolescent program director at The Camp's Meadow Lodge. “Through education and recovery, teens find hope.”
In addition to a fully accredited academic program, The Camp’s adolescent substance abuse program uses a variety of other methods to reach at-risk youth, including a ropes course, experiential therapies, individual, group and recreational therapies, and gender-specific and mixed groups. Families are also invited to participate in their child’s recovery effort, which helps teens stay sober and avoid relapse.
Helping Teens Move Forward
When teens turn away from education, they are more likely to act out, get involved with gangs and engage in other destructive behaviors. Before they realize it, they’ve fallen into a deep hole they can’t crawl out of, Cable explained.
“Many teens come to The Camp feeling hopeless and depleted after years of drug abuse, and have decided they will never get ahead of their addiction,” she said. “Drugs have taken away their ambition, their self-esteem and their dreams of making something of themselves.”
That’s where education comes in. For teens who didn’t think graduation was a realistic possibility, school programs like the one at The Camp's Meadow Lodge work out plans to make a brighter future possible.
“Education is a force that can move teens forward in their troubled lives,” said Wendy Nolan, an adolescent case manager at The Meadow Lodge. “Most of the teens who come into treatment have let their grades slip. Giving them plenty of individual attention gets them back on track, which builds their self-esteem and aids them in their recovery.”
Public School vs. Specialized Academic Programs
Specialized academic programs like the one at The Camp Recovery Center are particularly effective at getting teens reinvested in their education. Smaller class sizes allow for more one-on-one attention, and teachers have the opportunity to make learning fun by teaching art, music, poetry and other subjects that often are not available in the public school system.
Most of the teens at The Meadow Lodge are extremely bright, but because they’re bored in public school, they stopped listening and started getting into trouble. By engaging these students' intellect and creativity through arts, debates and discussions of current events, The Camp's teachers help them get excited about learning again.
For teachers, this type of classroom environment is ideal because it gives them the opportunity to really make a difference in a young person’s life.
“Working with teens in drug treatment is such a gift. Because they are no longer using drugs or alcohol, their minds just keep getting clearer and clearer,” said Spungen. “Teens are flexible and capable of change, and they’re willing to look inside themselves and discover who they are. That kind of openness is hard to find in a typical classroom.”
A Recipe for Sobriety
In order to make a successful recovery from addiction, Spungen believes teens need education and three additional things: a strong will, a parent or authority figure who provides unconditional love but also enforces strict boundaries, and a new environment that is supportive of their sobriety. If teens have two of the three, they have a good shot at staying sober, she believes.
“If teens really want to be successful in life, they need to get drugs and alcohol out of the way of their dreams,” added Melissa Preshaw, Community Relations Director. “Continuing their education during drug treatment helps teens put their lives on a different path and realize that a sober life can be even better than they imagined.”
- Education Brings Hope to Teens in Substance Abuse Treatment
- Bored Teens More Likely to Drink, Take Drugs
- Teachers at Residential Programs for Teens Take a Specialized Approach to Education
- The Drawbacks of Juvenile Boot Camps' Confrontational Approach
- Things to Consider Before You Ship Your Teen Off to Boot Camp