Recovery high schools: opportunities for support and personal growth for students in recovery

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Authors: Andrew Finch and Holly Wegman
Date: Dec. 2012
From: The Prevention Researcher(Vol. 19, Issue 5)
Publisher: Integrated Research Services, Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 4,982 words
Lexile Measure: 1480L

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Every day, teenagers who have made a decision to stop abusing drugs and alcohol are required by law to return to their assigned high schools. While many teenagers are able to withstand peer pressure and the daily presence of drugs or alcohol in their midst, studies have shown that most succumb to relapse within three months, and about half return to full-blown use within a year. Cornelius and colleagues (2003) found that 66% of adolescents had relapsed to drug use within 6 months of completing outpatient treatment, and the median time to drug relapse was 54 days. Winters and colleagues (2000) found that 47% of students returning home after treatment were using drugs at their prior rate or worse within 12 months. As one high school student in recovery said:

The most challenging part about being a student in recovery is the inevitable opportunities to use that wait. It is especially difficult to be young and in recovery because there is much anxiety about what lies ahead. I find myself constantly evaluating my situation and deciding the best way to avoid any chance to use (Addiction and Technology Transfer Center JATTCJ, 2010, p. 11).

Recovery high schools provide an opportunity for students who want to continue working on their sobriety and find a group of sobriety-foe used peers to experience a school setting that is geared toward supporting their recovery goals. This article will provide an introduction to recovery schools. First we will establish the need for recovery high schools, reviewing some of the challenges students face when returning to their old schools after undergoing treatment for a substance use disorder. Next we will describe the history as well as the general structure and governance of recovery high schools. Then we will describe the key characteristics of recovery schools, including the schools' size, the characteristics of the student body, the length of attendances, and the types of programming offered. Finally, we will review some of the outcomes expected and observed among recovery school students, establishing some of the benefits that recovery school students are expected to experience.


Before discussing what a recovery school is, it is important to understand the social context that has created a need for recovery high schools and the environments where adolescents are most at-risk for relapse after treatment. Traditionally, discussion of adolescent substance use has centered mostly on preventing abuse and providing access to treatment, leading to calls for providing evidenced-based prevention and treatment. The good news is that according to the annual National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health (SAMHSA, 2011), these efforts have shown some success over the last decade in reducing substance use disorders and the gap between people who need treatment and those who actually receive it. Still, society has further to go to eradicate substance use problems and the treatment gap among adolescents. In 2010, the rate of alcohol and illicit drug dependence or abuse among youths aged 12-17 was 7.3% (SAMHSA,...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A325091248