Should a Recovering Teen Go Back to School?

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: their child gets into drugs or alcohol and gets in way too deep. Addiction is a terrible thing at any age, but when it happens in the teenage years, the effects can be devastating. Substance abuse has far reaching physical, emotional, and social repercussions, but when the addict is still in high school these repercussions are magnified. The young brain is not fully developed yet and drugs and alcohol can cause tremendous damage.

On top of this, battling addiction is like a full time job. While in the throes of addiction and then recovery, there is little to no time for school and a teen can get very far behind as a result. As a parent, you want your child to recover and become successfully sober, first and foremost. But, what do you do after recovery? Should your child go right back to the same school she was in previously? Should she take some time off or go to a new school? These decisions are tough, but if you are coping with a teen addict, it is something that you, and she, will need to think about.

Going back to School

This may be the toughest option. Putting your child back into the same institution in which she faltered and became addicted may be asking for trouble and certainly for relapse. If the same kids are there with whom she used, she will be facing temptation on a daily basis. This may especially be the case if her old friends do not support her sobriety and try to get her back into their circle. As addicts of any age know, you must cut out the old friends who are still using. This could be very difficult to do for a teenager.

Furthermore, your child could be facing intense scrutiny and stigma. Secrets are not easily kept in high schools and do not doubt that the other students and the teachers will know that your daughter has been in recovery. She may face ridicule, bullying, or mistreatment from her peers and, perhaps, even from teachers. On the other hand, she may have old friends who could help her build a strong support group.

A New School

If it is possible in terms of cost and location, sending your child to a new school is an option. With a fresh start, she will not have to carry around the stigma of being the recovering drug addict or alcoholic. Being a high school student can be difficult enough without wearing that particular label. There are, of course, challenges with taking this route as well. She will be the new kid, which is never easy. She will have to start from scratch when it comes to making friends and building a social life. The stress of this could potentially lead to a relapse, but the stress can be alleviated if she retains ties to friends from her previous school that are sober, supportive, and a positive influence.

An Alternative School

While you could send her to any new public or private school, another choice is to select an alternative school that is designed for students who have struggled with addiction and substance abuse. Sometimes called or nicknamed "Sobriety High," these schools are filled with students who have had the experience of addiction and making bad choices. If you feel that your daughter will really struggle in the setting of a typical high school, this could be a valid option.

At an alternative high school, she will have the support of staff members who are specially trained to help young people struggling with addiction. And, of course, the other students will understand exactly what she is going through and where she has been. Being around people who know her struggle can be a powerful thing.

The downside to such a high school is that they can be hard to find. There are not too many around, which means you may need to send your child away. Most such schools are boarding facilities for several reasons, including the fact that people come from far away to attend them. Another reason is that it gives students a chance to be immersed in recovery and to be separated from the temptations of their pasts.


If none of the above options seem right for your child, you do have other choices. You can homeschool her as she works towards her GED, or high school equivalency exam. Depending on her abilities and motivation levels, she may need only minimal assistance. She may be able to study independently to pass the test, if you do not have the ability to have a parent or tutor stay with her throughout the day. The downside to homeschooling is that your child may feel isolated and lonely. To alleviate this, be sure that she has contact with old friends who are supportive or with a support group with other recovering teens.