Paths to recovery: Recovery high schools foster sobriety and educational attainment

People struggling with addiction have their own unique needs and challenges, and the path to recovery can be very different for each person. For young people, staying in recovery has its own challenges – especially given that school is such a big part of their lives. Some young people miss a lot of school as a result of addiction. And for those who have gotten treatment, they might have to go back to a school environment and social circle where problem behaviors are prevalent.

Massachusetts is one of only a handful of states taking the unique approach of offering these students a school experience that fosters healthy behaviors, reinforces their recovery efforts, and provides important educational and social outlets. While individual recovery high schools might have different curricula, they are generally small programs that offer additional support through therapists, substance abuse counselors, and mental health professionals. These services respond to co-existing disorders, like anxiety or depression, and address previous trauma, which a majority of recovery school students experience.

The recovery school environment is supportive rather than punitive, allowing students to feel more comfortable and honest about relapse, and for the response to relapse to foster healthier behaviors. Students have a shared experience, and can offer positive support to each other. And recovery schools support not only the student but also the family, which has an important role in supporting sobriety and addressing co-occurring trauma or disorders.

William J. Ostiguy High School in Boston was the first recovery high school in the Massachusetts. With a capacity of 50 students, it serves youth in the Boston area and eastern region of the state. North Shore Recovery High School in Beverly opened a year later in 2007, and serves students in the region as priority but will consider all applicants. Liberty Preparatory Academy is a part of Springfield Public Schools, and Independence Academy is part of Brockton Public Schools. And the Recovery High School of the Central Massachusetts Special Education Collaborative in Worcester just opened in fall 2015.

Some preliminary studies of recovery high schools have shown success in preventing relapse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse is funding further research on the effect of recovery high schools on sobriety and education completion. But the stories of young people are some of the best evidence of the important role that recovery high schools have played in their sobriety and educational success. This video featuring students from Ostiguy High School in Boston demonstrates how this special educational environment helped them turn hopelessness into success.

To learn more about services for young people, including recovery high schools, call the Helpline at 800.327.5050 or search our website for “youth related services.”

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