4 Recovery Support Services Critical to Combatting America’s Youth Addiction Crisis

According to The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence ‘there is no single age group of people more affected by alcohol and drugs than young people’.  A recent study conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University further validates this point by revealing that ‘90 percent of Americans who are addicted to tobacco, alcohol or other substances started smoking, drinking or using drugs before they were 18 year'.

The study also found that one-quarter of Americans who began using any addictive substance before age 18 are addicted, compared with one in 25 Americans who started using an addictive substance when they were 21 or older. Additionally, nearly half of American high school students now smoke, drink or use other drugs.

Since using alcohol and drugs before the brain has fully developed dramatically increases the risk for future addiction, it is critical that family members, friends, and allies come together to support and educate about the new types of recovery support services available to our young people in order to combat America's growing addiction crisis before it is too late.  


Despite the startling statistics listed above, only 11% of young adults ages 18-25 with illicit drug dependence received treatment in 2015.  This low number showcases two critical points:  1) there is a significant lack of recovery resources available to our upcoming generations throughout the nation and a lack of awarenss of the various types of supports available in each community, and 2) young people are tragically unaware of the dangers surrounding their substance use until they reach a later age and are forced to seek support because they've hit rock bottom.   

Initially, a young person may dabble with substances for a variety of reasons, such as peer pressure, lack of parental support or a positive role model, or substances are being misused within the home. However, once a person uses alcohol or drugs, whether or not they will develop alcoholism or drug dependence is largely influenced by their genetics. If one has a history of alcoholism or addiction within the family, they will be four times more likely to develop an addiction to substances. As a result, young people will often find themselves addicted without fully comprehending what this even means, and before they know it they are headed down a troubling path that can lead to alcohol poisoning. drug overdose, an accident while under the influence, a police arrest which can jeopardize their reputation and freedom, and/or long-term health issues.


Throughout the nation, public funding for substance use disorder  prevention, treatment, and recovery support services does not match current or projected needs for any of these services that are funded by public dollars. Fortunately, there are a handful of innovative and evidence-based recovery support solutions available to  help our young people to successfully transition from active addiction to sustained recovery and overall wellness. However, these supports are limited, which is why exactly we need to more education and awareness about their programs and the impact they can have so we can expand these services into other areas.  These supports include:

  1. Alternative peer groups: An Alternative Peer Group (APG) is a community-based, family-centered, professionally staffed, positive, peer support program that offers prosocial activities, counseling, and case-management for people who struggle with substance use or self-destructive behaviors. APGs provide recovery services outside of school or work hours that include counseling, family support, case management, psychosocial education, community recovery support, and sober social functions for weekdays and weekends.
  2. Recovery high schools:   Recovery high schools are secondary schools designed specifically for students in recovery from substance use disorder or dependency. Much like traditional high schools, recovery high schools often include administrative staff, teachers, and counselors that each play a critical role in supporting their students. Additionally, recovery schools support students in working a strong program of recovery from substance use disorders or co-occurring issues and offer support for families learning to how to live with, and provide support for, their teens entering into the recovery lifestyle. Recovery high schools may employ substance abuse counselors or mental health professionals that play a critical role in supporting recovering youth. Recovery high schools educate all available and eligible students who are in recovery from substance use disorders or co-occurring disorders such as anxiety, depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and award secondary school diplomas that meet state requirements.
  3. Collegiate Recovery Programs (CRPs) and Collegiate Recovery Communities (CRCs): CRPs and CRCs provide the education, resources, and community connection needed to help change the trajectory of recovering student’s lives. A collegiate recovery program is a supportive environment within the campus culture that reinforces collegiate recovery community members decision to disengage from addictive behavior. It is designed to provide an educational opportunity alongside recovery support to ensure that students do not have to sacrifice one for the other.
  4. Young People in Recovery Chapters: Young People in Recovery (YPR) is a national grassroots advocacy organization focused on creating recovery-ready communities throughout the nation for young people in, or seeking, recovery. YPR aims to improve access to treatment, educational resources, employment opportunities, and secure, quality housing on the local, state, and national levels. By creating a national network of young people in recovery, we empower young people to get involved in their communities by providing them with the tools and support to take charge of their futures.  The YPR national leadership team creates and cultivates local community-led chapters through grassroots organizing and training. Chapters support young people in or seeking recovery by empowering them to obtain stable employment, secure suitable housing, and explore continuing education. Chapters also advocate on the local and state levels for better accessibility of these services and other effective recovery resources.


For over forty years, Houston, Texas has been serving youth, young adults, and families through the use of a continuum of care model, which includes supporting youth in recovery through Alternative Peer Groups. The power of youth recovery groups to make sobriety more fun than using grew within the community as APGs expanded and flourished. With five APGs offering satellite locations throughout the Houston and surrounding areas by 2002, the stage was set to sustain two recovery high schools that opened their doors in 2003. Students who attend these two recovery high schools are required to maintain enrollment in a local APG. This requirement has proven to be the key to sustaining an integrated recovery system for Houston’s recovering youth. Students’ recovery, as well as their families’, is supported during the day at school and reinforced in the evenings and weekends in their APGs.

The evidence in Houston shows that these types of wrap around services create a more comprehensive and balanced environment for adolescents. Communities, who have shifted from an acute care system to this more holistic approach, are seeing very positive outcomes thanks to the support that young people are receiving at each stage of their early development.


In response to the rising tide of requests for youth specific recovery resources throughout the nation, the National Youth Recovery Alliance (NYRA) was created by linking youth recovery organizations together through an online platform. NYRA is an interconnected network of resources that anyone can and should be able to access easily through the web. The landing page links community leaders, young people, families, and professionals directly to each of the national organizations that specialize in a specific niche of the continuum of services model. 


The National Youth Recovery Alliance (NYRA) was inspired by GENERTAION FOUND, a documentary film that focuses on a unique approach to adolescent and young adult substance use disorder prevention, treatment and recovery support services. Throughout the nation, local communities have hosted screenings of this important film as a way of educating about the youth addiction crisis in their hometown, connecting with key providers and allies, and advocating for the expansion of youth recovery support services throughout their state.

Regarding the film, Bill White, the author of Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America, stated, "The film Generation Found masterfully portrays the story of a youth-focused recovery revolution that could profoundly reshape the future of addiction, addiction treatment, and addiction recovery in the United States. This landmark film will serve as a dynamic catalyst for community education and mobilization. Organizing recovery support systems within high schools and collegiate communities is one of the most important developments within America's response to alcohol and other drug problems among adolescents and young adults. Generation Found beautifully conveys how such systems of support are transforming one American community. I commend this film to everyone concerned about the future of young people in America."

The film aims to ignite a youth recovery revolution throughout the nation by showing an unprecedented and intimate look at how a system of treatment centers, sober high schools, alternative peer groups, and collegiate recovery programs can exist in concert to intervene early and provide a real and tested long-term alternative to the “War on Drugs.” It is not only a deeply personal story, but one with real-world utility for communities struggling with addiction worldwide.

To learn more about Generation Found and how you can support the youth recovery revolution visit: GenerationFoundFilm.com

Additional Resources:

Shannon Egan

Shannon Egan is an author, international journalist, and advocate for addiction recovery. Despite training as a writer on humanitarian issues for the United Nations, Shannon prefers sharing her personal stories of addiction and recovery to infuse hope in those still struggling and spread the message that recovery is possible.