This post was originally published on June 29, 2016.
If you have ever heard a sober person share their story of addiction to recovery, you will probably notice that, more often than not, their drinking and using careers began in their teens. I am certain there is concrete biological evidence to support this phenomenon. From my own experience I can attest to high school being unbearable and if it weren’t for drinking, smoking pot and the insta-friends that came along with them, I don’t see how I would have survived.
It appears I am not alone in these sentiments. According to The News & Observer, teens all over the country are turning to substance abuse to cope with their lives (on and off campus). However, they find their subsequent efforts to get clean to be extremely challenging, especially within the confines of mainstream high school. I never tried getting sober as a teen, but I can’t imagine recovery would have stuck. That is why places like PEASE Academy, a recovery high school in Minneapolis, Minnesota is one of 36 campuses that provide a safe, supportive drug-free environment for teens to get and stay sober.
The Unique Challenges of Teenagers
Somewhere between getting a diploma and going to rehab is where you will find recovery high schools—academic institutions that pair an educational curriculum with peer support and therapy in an effort to smooth the transition from substance abuse to sobriety. Though they have been around since the late 1970s, the demand for sober high school schools is on the rise, partly (if not greatly) attributed to the spike in opioid abuse in the US. Now seven new facilities are planned to open in Florida, Illinois, Colorado, Minnesota and Washington; two of these five states also happen to be where marijuana is legal for both medicinal and recreational use.
While being physically addicted to drugs has it’s own host of challenges, teens also have to deal with the physical and emotional growing pains of adolescence. Add to that any abuse or violence in their homes, mental heath issues or behavioral disorders they may be battling, it’s no doubt that getting and staying clean as a teenager can be a complicated task. That is why schools that go beyond just a “drug-free” campus (as most high schools claim) are crucial for so many. Adults who recall what it was like to be this age will surely understand that removing kids from the mainstream system is a much more realistic approach to achieving and maintaining sobriety than expecting them to stay sober when they still have ties to their partying friends. Establishments like PEASE Academy provide a sober environment for teenagers. Students are exposed to the tools needed for continued sobriety and a chance to earn their diploma—one many of them didn’t have when they were using.
Sounds Great, Where Do I Sign Up?
Though the need for recovery schools is rising, funding for them isn’t necessarily following suit. Like many small schools, they are subject to fluctuation of enrollment, demand and economic means of their community and the question of the quality of education they provide. Though advocacy groups, legislators and researchers are making advances to improve these factors, we are still looking at less than 50 schools to serve all the kids in this country who may have a drug and/or alcohol problem. I don’t have any hard figures, but I feel pretty secure in saying that isn’t nearly enough.
It seems that funding shouldn’t really be a problem though. Since it appears that a strong case can be made for Big Pharma being heavily to blame for the opioid problem, I don’t see why we can’t go all Philip Morris on them and make them throw money at the solution. We can’t stop the train but we could force them to clean up their messes, couldn’t we?
Pay Now or Pay Later
As of now, money to keep recovery high schools going comes from either private tuition or per-pupil state funding that would otherwise go to a mainstream institution. But these funds usually don’t cover the added expenses of drug testing, mental heath counseling and the other unique costs involved in alcohol and drug monitoring and treatment. And with wealthier clientele getting precious about brand name education for their kids, recovery schools can often lose the parents vote because they lack academic prestige. Perhaps, these parents don’t understand the gravity of the problem.
But as Juli Ferraro, the principal of Serenity High, a recovery school in McKinney, Texas, says, “As a society, we’re either going to pay now or pay later.” Meaning, that when parents of addicted teens choose not to send their kids to a sober school in fear of stigma or a dip in status, it not only lowers the school enrollment and subsequent funding but also their child’s chance of of success. While there are definitely kids who get clean and stay clean in traditional academic and social settings, there are probably just as many, (if not more) who don’t. If hopes of breaking a larger, rapidly growing cycle of drug abuse and death in teens isn’t a motivator, then parents should at least educate themselves on the individual struggles that their own kids will likely face. There will be consequences—now and later—if their addiction is not arrested.