Shelterwood clients have arrived on all points of the substance-abuse spectrum. Some have been experimenting. Some have been addicted for years. The faith-based residential treatment center helps them all find self-worth and sobriety. 

“We want every kid to leave here understanding what their risk factors are for developing or maintaining a substance abuse disorder,” says Ken DeBlock, Director of Substance Abuse Prevention and Recovery. “We also want them to understand how to address those risk factors, so they can find a sober lifestyle and maintain it.” 

Ken says many teens come to Shelterwood with high risk factors for substance abuse. While some of their friends may be able to limit substance abuse to “partying,” many Shelterwood clients are at high-risk for addiction. Risk factors include: 

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Socialization (observing substance abuse at home)
  • Friends who abuse substances
  • Other mental health disorders (that can contribute, worsen and/or create a cyclical relationship with use)
  • Trauma
  • Major physical injuries (can lead to exposure to mood-altering drugs, and/or motivation to escape chronic pain) 

Shelterwood has helped clients recover from everything from chronic vaping (nicotine and marijuana) and cough medicine abuse to addictions to methamphetamines, cocaine and opiates. Ken says they are currently seeing a rise in the use of benzodiazepines like Xanax, as their street value has dropped, as well as LSD use. Alcohol addiction is ever-present. 

“Technology has created an ease of access,” Ken says. “People are more easily accessing harder drugs—at younger ages.”

Treating substance abuse in teens
Treating substance abuse in teens takes a slightly different approach than working with adults decades into addictions, says Ken. Most teens are brought to Shelterwood by someone else; they don’t necessarily believe they have a substance abuse problem when they arrive. 

“They, by virtue of their youth, have not really—in the classic understanding of addiction—hit rock bottom,” says Ken. “A large part of what we do is motivation for recovery and education around how substance abuse is significantly harming or impairing your life.”

Ken says Shelterwood teaches the research on how different substances affect the body and brain and helps students connect that science to their own experiences. Slowly, teens can start to see how their lives were affected by their substance use more clearly. 

“People who have addictive issues create a narrative that is very different from objective realities,” Ken says. For example, a teen might blame their failing grades on prejudicial teachers instead of their inability to understand the material while intoxicated. 

“They see the problems, but they create a distorted narrative for why the problems are there,” Ken explains. “Through education and developing genuine and honest relationships with them, we challenge them with reality.”

Motivation through self-worth
That reality includes deeper truths about teens’ value and identities. 

“Everybody wants to believe they are lovable, worthy, capable, and that they are going to make it in life,” Ken says. “When teens feel like they don’t measure up, they start to look for things that will make them feel better.” 

Many teen’s addiction issues go back to an underlying belief that they just aren’t good enough. Social media and a constant-comparison culture don’t help this doubt. Shelterwood’s abstinence-based, 12-step program helps teens reclaim their worth. 

“If I think I’m worth nothing, then what does it matter?” Ken questions. “But maybe that whole construct I have about my worthlessness isn’t true…and if it’s not…it’s easier to make the decision to do something different.” 

Emphasizing that clients do not have to become Christians to find sobriety at Shelterwood, Ken says the center’s spiritual aspects of the program are powerful. 

When teens get sober, they aren’t only going through a physical withdrawal. They are also withdrawing emotionally from the identity they built around that substance abuse. They need to redefine who they are at their very core. Unlike adults who struggle with addiction, most teens are still searching for themselves. At Shelterwood, finding that stable identity becomes the real motivator for maintaining a sober lifestyle.

“When I start believing the things that God believes about me, it does help me find a healthier identity that I can use as an anchor point,” Ken explains. “What we offer is a true identity through a relationship with God and Christ,” Ken says. 

Do you know a teen who needs a healthier perspective on substance use and a deeper understanding of their own value? Talk to one of our admission counselors to find out how we can help.