Wilderness Substance Abuse Therapy for Teens

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

The teen and young adult years are a time of tremendous and often tumultuous change. These years not only are a time of immense physical and psychological changes, teenagers are also navigating the complexities of their burgeoning social lives as well as the pitfalls of peer pressure. Additionally, teenagers also must shoulder the burdens of increased responsibilities and expectations put upon them by their parents, teachers and employers.

For young people who are still developing and growing, these pressures can be difficult to handle. As a result, young people may start experimenting with drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism or as a way to “fit in”. Drug use during the teen years can have devastating impacts on their physical, psychological and social development—and these negative impacts can often be felt well into adulthood. If you are a parent of a teenager who may be using substances, it is important to find the appropriate treatment options that fit their unique needs.

While traditional drug treatment rehabs may be the first options that are considered by parents, teenagers may have great difficulty in being motivated and fully engaged in the programs these facilities offer. In order for teens to be fully involved in the treatment experience, alternative forms of programming may have to be considered that will allow them to be fully active in the treatment process. One such program option that is gaining favor is wilderness substance abuse therapy for teens.

What Are Wilderness Addiction Treatment Programs for Teens?

Wilderness programs for addiction treatment had its roots in the 1970’s. However, many of these programs were crudely thrown together, lacked qualified counselors and generally were not covered under health insurance. Over the years, wilderness therapy for teens become more refined and they started to gain popularity in the mid 1990’s when effective substance abuse treatment therapies were introduced.

Wilderness substance abuse therapy for teens was created for and specifically targeted towards adolescents and young adults who are struggling with substance abuse and may not respond to treatment in a more traditional setting. Drug and alcohol abuse among adolescents in the United States has long been a concern, and the following statistics featured in the 2014 Monitoring the Future Survey clearly illustrate this concern:

  • Over one-third of all 12th graders have tried marijuana in the past month.
  • Nearly four in ten 12th graders have drank alcohol in the last 30 days.
  • The use of prescription drugs by adolescents for recreational use has risen dramatically.

How Are Wilderness Drug Treatment Programs for Teens Structured?

young man crossing river

At the foundation of all wilderness drug addiction programs is the same counseling and therapy practices that are employed at traditional treatment facilities. These programs are run, maintained and supervised by experienced and certified counselors and therapists. As with other treatment programs, therapists and counselors work to create treatment plans that can be customized to each patient’s specific needs.

During the intake process, treatment staff will meet with and assess each client and will determine what they believe to be the best plan of action to help this person overcome their substance abuse other related issues. A proper assessment ensures that clients are placed with therapists and peers who can relate to their issues.

The obvious selling point of wilderness therapy is the great outdoors. Teens in these programs spend the majority of their days outdoors, being an active participant in challenging and character-building activities. These activities can include learning how to build shelter, make fire, learning to forage for food and other survival skills. These skills help those going through wilderness therapy develop self-confidence, self-worth and self-control.

How Long Do Wilderness Treatment Programs for Teens Last?

For those who are considering wilderness substance abuse therapy for teens, there are two options. The first option is what is called a contained system where patients and counselors engage in a three week session where they stay together for an “expedition” type of trip. The second option is called the continuous flow system option and can last for up to 8 weeks. In this option, new clients are introduced into the program as it progresses and counselors and other leaders are rotated in and out as needed. No matter the duration of the program, the same skills and treatment options are offered in full.

How Wilderness Therapy is Effective in Helping Teens Overcome Their Substance Abuse Issues

Wilderness addiction therapy is a unique type of treatment for adolescents who are struggling with substance abuse issues as well as mental health issues. It helps adolescents to grow in healthy ways both physically and mentally, to become more independent and self-aware, and to learn how to better work with others. In addition to having providing an individualized plan of treatment and recovery that best suits each client and providing them with the best chance of long-term recovery, wilderness therapy for substance abuse works by providing the following:

  • Improve and nurture physical health, which can help mental health and help clients avoid substance abuse.
  • Make new and productive relationships and connections
  • Develop healthier thinking and behavioral patterns
  • Helps those in treatment look at their previous environment in a new light. By being removed from that environment, it fosters healing and growth.
  • The family can be involved directly in the treatment and healing process.

Will Insurance Cover Wilderness Addiction Treatment for Teens?

health insurance policy

At this time, not maybe insurance providers cover the cost of this type of therapy. However, because this form of treatment is gaining acceptance and more families are pursuing wilderness therapy, many of these facilities are pushing for accreditation and are working with insurance companies. To see if a wilderness treatment program will be covered under your insurance, contact your insurance carrier.

Need More Information on Wilderness Therapy for Teens?

Are you a parent of a teen struggling with abuse issues that is looking for an effective and interactive drug treatment program? If you are considered a wilderness addiction therapy program for you teen but are in need of more information, call First Steps Recovery toll-free today.

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