How to Choose a Substance Treatment Program for Your Teen

Teen substance abuse is at a historic low in the United States. Regardless, it continues to be a very real problem. Dallas Drug Treatment Centers, a directory of substance rehab facilities in the Dallas metro, reports that admission inquiries for teens continued at a steady pace, even with school closures and restricted movement due to COVID.

Previously, options for teen-oriented rehab programs have been limited. This meant that teens often had to be treated by clinicians who were more in tune with adults and were often grouped with older individuals. This often meant that treatment resulted in feelings of isolation and low recovery rates. Thankfully, there are now far more options for teens with substance use disorders in North Texas.

If you’re thinking about sending your teen to a rehab center, here are a few things to consider beforehand.

1.) Look for signs that your teen might be using drugs

Personality changes in teens are generally not enough of a reason to suspect drug use. However, there are a few things that can tip you off to possible drug use. This includes:

    • Finding drug paraphernalia
    • Petty theft
    • Constant demands for money
    • A change of appetite
    • Sleeping too much or staying up all night
    • A new set of friends
    • Changes in appearance and hygiene
    • A sudden drop in school performance
    • Keeping more secrets than usual
    • Aggression or depression
    • Lack of interest in previous hobbies

While finding drug paraphernalia is a pretty obvious giveaway that your teen might be using drugs, the other signs may not be so unambiguous. However, if several of these signs apply, you may want to take the next step.

2.) Take your teen to see a qualified psychiatrist

Treatment and rehab are really only for those with a real substance use disorder. It’s important to realize that not all teens that experiment with drugs have an “addiction” and sending them to rehab when no substance use disorder is present can damage your relationship with your child.

Teens are at a time in their life where they are grappling with big questions regarding their identities. Most teens will want to explore their boundaries and independence. As hard as it might be for many parents to hear, there is a difference between experimenting with drugs or alcohol and being addicted to them.

Regardless, teen drug use is still a serious problem, as adolescent brains are far more vulnerable to forming pathways to addictive behavior than that of a fully-developed adult. If you have strong proof that your child has been taking drugs, taking them to see a qualified psychiatrist should be your first step.

A psychiatrist will be able to diagnose a substance use disorder in your teen if any. Chances are, your teen may not even need rehab and may only need counseling to address the issue that may have led to their drug use.

3.) Choose an appropriate program type

If your teen does have a substance use disorder, you may need to consider this next step. Your teen’s psychiatrist should be able to help you with this. 

Generally speaking, teens can enter a residential or outpatient program. Residential or inpatient programs require patients to have an extended stay at a special facility for treatment and monitoring. Outpatient programs only need visits for treatment sessions.

Individuals with moderate or severe substance use disorders as well as those with a serious co-occurring mental health issue may benefit from a residential program. Milder cases, which are far more common, are likely to be treatable through an outpatient program.

However, parents that choose an outpatient program should also consider how likely it is that their teen might remain in contact with friends who are a negative influence. If this is likely, then parents should consider a residential program, or moving their child to a location far from negative influences where they could do their outpatient treatment.

4.) Research each rehab facility

The Dallas Metro and the rest of North Texas has dozens of options for drug and alcohol rehabilitation. However, just because a particular facility accepts teens or claims to specialize in adolescent substance use disorders, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best choice.

A 2004 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association titled “The Quality of Highly Regarded Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment Programs” found nine areas that effective teen drug programs had in common. Among the programs surveyed, all the ones considered “highly regarded” shared the following features:

    • Assessment and treatment matching. The clinicians customize treatments according to each case; no “one-size fits all” approaches.
    • Comprehensive, integrated treatment approach. The treatments are holistic and examine all issues relevant to your teen.
    • Family involvement in treatment. As with adult substance use disorders, family support and participation is a predictor of long-term recovery.
    • Developmentally-appropriate program. The program should be specifically designed for teenagers.
    • Engaging and retaining teens in treatment. Teens should be able to trust their counselors and therapists.
    • Qualified staff. All involved clinicians and staff should have training specific to teenage substance use disorders.
    • Gender and cultural competence. The program should be sensitive to your teen’s background, including their gender identity and culture.
    • Continuing care. Relapse prevention and long-term outcomes after the program should be considered.
    • Outcomes. The facility should track patient outcomes and change methods to improve them.

It can be exceedingly difficult to find a program that ticks all these boxes. Talking to facility administrators, checking reviews, and consulting with your teen’s psychiatrist can give you some idea about how appropriate a program is. Be sure to ask questions about accreditation, how the program will affect academics, aftercare programs, and the level of family involvement.


Sending your teen to rehab is not a decision to be made lightly. The type of program you select and how you go about choosing it can make a major impact not only on your child’s life but also on your relationship. 

It’s important to show that you are sending your child to rehab out of love and because of a concern for their mental health. As much as possible you shouldn’t make decisions based on shame or anger at your child’s substance use.

By approaching the problem from a mental health perspective and taking the time to weigh your options, not only will you have a better chance of choosing the best facility and program for your teen, but you can also ensure that the foundations of your relationship remain strong in this trying time.


About Josh Trent

Josh Trent lives in Austin, Texas with his love Carrie Michelle, son Novah, and a cat named Cleo. He is the Founder of Wellness Force Media, host of the Wellness + Wisdom Podcast and the creator of the BREATHE: Breath & Wellness Program. Josh has spent the past 19+ years as a trainer, researcher, and facilitator discovering the physical and emotional intelligence for humans to thrive in our modern world. The Wellness Force Media Mission is to help humans heal mental, emotional, and physical health through podcasts, programs, and a global community that believes in optimizing our potential to live life well.

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