Drug and alcohol use remains a severe problem among school age children, with the National Institute on Drug Abuse showing that 5.4% of 8th graders, 9.8% of 10th graders, and 14.3% of 12th graders use illicit substances, and nearly 1.3 million teens have a substance use disorder. Unfortunately, recovery treatment is often unsuccessful when teens return to their schools and are surrounded by the same peers and the same opportunities to use. Data shows that nearly 70% of students who attend recovery and return to their school will relapse in 6 months or less.
Recovery High Schools
Put the two together—high school and recovery—and then throw in adolescence, and what exists is a very real challenge facing an untold number of young people.
"When kids came out and went back to their regular environment, they were relapsing at almost ridiculous rates—anywhere from 65% to 80% in the first one to three months. Because they were relapsing at such rates, it was undermining the effectiveness of the treatment and the kids were in trouble." (Lori Holleran Steiker, MSW, PhD. distinguished professor at the University of Texas at Austin.)
Prompted by a frightening number of student deaths, many communities began to create a new concept almost 30 years ago that came to be called - recovery high schools.
Recovery high schools combat the ready availability of drugs and alcohol in schools by separating recovering teens from their peers, putting them into smaller classrooms, offering custom tuition and workloads, as well as daily meetings with addiction recovery counselors, group therapy, and a welcoming environment where students are encouraged to be open about relapse rather than hiding it.
A Brief History
The first recovery high schools opened in the late 70s and mid 80s in the United States. One of the most well-known, the Ecole Nouvelle, later Sobriety High, was founded in 1986 in Edina Minnesota. The program was designed to help students study and to work through their recovery at the same time. By 2010, Sober High School had expanded to 5 branches. While the growth of recovery high schools was slow from the 1980s until 2008 (there were just 5 registered recovery high schools in the USA in 2001), recent studies on their success reducing the relapse rate has resulted in large scale investments in recovery high schools. There are currently 43 recovery high schools in the USA, with more planned.
Most recovery high schools focus on offering non-judgmental and non-authoritarian support. By removing the risk of punitive measures, recovery high schools make it easier for students to open up, be honest about their recovery, and to get help when they relapse.
- Students are kept apart from other classes and schools through different schedules or physical barriers to prevent interaction and potential exposure to triggers.
- Schools often use a custom curriculum, designed to account for the student’s individual needs.
- Almost all recovery high schools integrate daily meetings with addiction recovery counselors into their curriculum. This typically includes group meetings in the morning before classes begin and may include special sessions after classes.
- In most cases, students are enrolled in a group therapy class. However, this may be part of the school tuition and be an outside body such as Alateen, specializing in offering recovery assistance to students.
Recovery high schools can cost twice what traditional schools do, require students to attend school with a small body of students, and require attendance until graduation.
Do They Work?
Recovery high schools are highly effective in preventing relapse. Where most students who leave traditional recovery and go back to their original high school face a 70% chance of relapse in the first 6 months, that rate drops to just 26% for hard drugs in a recovery school.
A lot more of these recovery schools are needed all across the nation.