Teen Prescription Drug Rehab

In the past 20 years, researchers have learned a significant amount about the nature of addiction.

In the 1950s and 1960s, for example, people commonly assumed that teens who became addicted to drugs and alcohol were simply lazy or unmotivated. With a bit of tough love and severe reprimands, those teens could be whipped into shape and brought back to a useful place in society. Now, experts know that addiction causes powerful changes in the brain of the addict, and those changes can make it physically impossible for the addict to stop using, whether or not he or she wants to.

Teens who are addicted to painkillers may have experienced these physical changes due to addiction, and they may face another serious hurdle.

Some prescription medications are too dangerous to stop taking without medical supervision. Teens who stop taking these prescription medications abruptly may face serious health consequences. Using a tough love, abrupt-stop approach on these teens could cause them to die.

In order to heal from a prescription drug addiction, teens often need a targeted approach that combines medical supervision with maintenance medications and behavioral therapies. When these three aspects are in play at the same time, true healing can begin.

What are the Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs?

Currently, there are several drugs that sit atop the “most wanted” list of teen addiction treatment centers.

These prescription medications include:

  • Vicodin. Currently, the most abused prescription painkiller among teenagers in the United States. Highly addictive, Vicodin abuse can quickly cause the individual to develop a tolerance to the drug – meaning it will take more and more of the substance over time to achieve the desired opiate effect.
  • OxyContin. Called in some circles “The Hillbilly Heroin”, OxyContin is a powerful painkiller – and when abused through snorting or injecting the drug – can lead to overdose or death.
  • Adderall,. Used to help those with ADD and ADHD overcome their illnesses, Adderall has become the drug of choice for many students who use it for its stimulant effects.
  • Valium. Although not as commonly abused as it once was, the sleep aid Valium is still popular among those kids who are seeking a depressant. When mixed with alcohol, Valium becomes incredibly dangerous.
  • Percocet. Another painkiller that has become popular among young people for it’s euphoric effects

Addressing the Problem

Prescription Drug RehabThe first step in the rehabilitation process is often the hardest. Parents and family members must approach the teen and notify him or her that the addiction has been noticed, is destructive and must stop immediately. This conversation is commonly called an intervention, and it can be quite scary for parents to contemplate. They may fear that they’ll push a reluctant teen even further into addiction, or they may find the whole idea of holding a confrontation unpleasant. According to the Mayo Clinic, these fears aren’t unfounded, as an intervention is a highly charged conversation, but hiring an intervention specialist can help. These trained professionals can help the family plan for the conversation, and they can stay on the scene during the conversation and step in if talk becomes abusive or out of hand.

In order to plan for the intervention, the family:

  • Learns more about prescription drug addiction and how it might impact the teen
  • Chooses people who will speak to the teen during the intervention
  • Decides on a treatment program for the teen, and makes arrangements so the teen can enter the program at the end of the intervention
  • Chooses a location and time for the talk
  • Writes letters to read out loud during the intervention

The teen is then surprised by the meeting, and may become motivated to enter treatment once he or she hears the litany of consequences addiction may cause, and the statements of care and concern from family members. These conversations may be upsetting, but they allow the teen to enter treatment with an open mind and a clear understanding of why rehabilitation is so important.


Rehabilitation programs begin with detoxification, and this step is extremely important for teens dealing with prescription medication addictions.

Teens who take depressants, for example, may face seizures if they stop taking the drugs abruptly. Teens who take pain medications may face severe gastrointestinal problems when they stop taking drugs abruptly. While the teens do need to clear the drugs from their systems before they can enter a true rehabilitation program, they often need medical supervision during this detoxification.

Some teens need treatment with a drug called buprenorphine. This drug is similar to opiates and other medications teens commonly become addicted to, but buprenorphine often doesn’t produce a sense of happiness or euphoria. Instead, it simply blocks withdrawal symptoms. Teens may take high doses of buprenorphine at the beginning of detoxification and then taper to smaller and smaller doses as treatment continues.

When the teen enters a detoxification program, doctors will determine what drugs the person has been taking and at what dosage. The teen will need to be perfectly honest here, so the medical staff can design an appropriate treatment plan that takes all conceivable problems into account.

At the end of detoxification, the teen is ready to move on to other treatment programs.

There are many options available, and some plans that work for some teens don’t work on others. In fact, according to a study published in the journal Substance Abuse and Misuse, different programs often get the same scores when researchers measure relapse rates. The researchers agree, however, that some treatment is better than no treatment. The teen will work with a counselor at the end of detoxification to craft a recovery program that is appropriate and likely to be helpful.

Family Therapy

Family TherapyIn many prescription drug rehabilitation programs, the entire family is often asked to participate in therapy sessions. This may sound unusual, since the entire family hasn’t been abusing drugs, but the fact remains that teen addiction often has its roots deep within the structure of the family. Teens who argue with their parents, for example, may take drugs in order to feel calm and placid. They may then be rewarded for their “good” behavior, and they may feel as though taking drugs is the only way in which they can be considered acceptable members of the family. Other teens take prescription drugs because they watch their parents dope up on alcohol or drugs while at home. Dealing with these issues can help the teen see the harm in addiction and move forward in a healthy way.

At Newport Academy, we believe that family therapy is the cornerstone of an effective teen drug rehabilitation program. We often encourage our teens to participate in these sessions.

Structured family therapy sessions have proven to be quite effective in helping teens overcome addiction. According to a study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, family-based therapies were significantly more effective in helping addicted teens than were therapies based on peer groups. In other words, teens who participated in group sessions with other teens may have learned some coping skills, but teens who participated in group sessions with their families may have dealt specifically with their own addictions, and they experienced a greater sense of healing as a result.

Individual Therapy

Behavioral therapy treatments are designed to help the teen learn more about why he or she began to use drugs in the first place.

The teen often works with one therapist in a close relationship built on trust and mutual respect. While the teen is encouraged to learn that addiction is a chronic disease that must be managed but cannot be cured, the teen might also become empowered to take control and make good decisions that can keep a relapse from occurring.

The teen might be encouraged to answer these sorts of questions:

  • When do you feel a strong urge to take prescription medications?
  • Which friends also take these drugs?
  • Who gives you the drugs?
  • Where do you take them?

Then, the teen can brainstorm methods to use when these situations arise. In general, the more specific the teen is in these planning sessions, the more successful the teen will be in beating back the addiction over the long term. According to a study in the Journal of Adolescent Chemical Dependency, teens who participated in problem-solving therapies that encouraged them to think of real-world scenarios and learn how to conquer them did better in recovery than teens who thought in hypothetical, loose terms about relapse scenarios. Teens need to think in concrete terms, and practice their skills, in order to avoid temptation.

Continuing Care

Parents may be accustomed to taking their teens to the doctor to cure a specific problem, and once the problem is cured, they can ignore it once more. Prescription medication addiction isn’t curable in this way. In fact, most experts consider addiction to be a chronic condition that can recur throughout the teen’s life. The National Institute on Drug Abuse compares drug addiction to diabetes and finds the two conditions are much the same. Someone with diabetes is told that he or she must exercise, eat right and see the doctor regularly. Someone with addiction is told not to use the substance again. However 30 to 50 percent of people with diabetes will fall into old habits and neglect their disease. Similarly, 40 to 60 percent of addicts will relapse.

Addiction is a disease that must be managed for life.

While these numbers might seem disheartening, they are just true. When the teen emerges from detoxification and intensive rehabilitation programs, and the family completes a course of family therapy, the teen will have to continue to work on the addiction. Some teens do this by continuing to see their addiction counselors on a regular basis. Other teens begin to join 12-step groups in their community and make new friendships and connections with others in recovery. Either path is acceptable, as long as the teen keeps working at their sobriety.

Families can help by keeping the lines of communication open and staying in close contact with the teen. Working on recovery, day in and day out, can be difficult and isolating and the teen may need time to vent and talk about feelings.

The teen may also need to feel comfortable discussing a relapse, so he or she can get appropriate help.