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J Groups Addict Recover. 2008;2:128-161.

Recovery High Schools: A Descriptive Study of School Programs and Students.

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School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin.


High schools specifically designed for students recovering from a substance use disorder (substance abuse or dependence) have been emerging as a continuing care resource since 1987. This study of 17 schools provides the first systematic description of recovery school programs and their students. The most common school model is that of a program or affiliated school, embedded organizationally and physically with another school or set of alternative school programs. Although embedded, there are serious efforts to maintain physical separation of recovery school students from other students, using scheduling and physical barriers. Affiliation with public school systems is the case for most recovery schools, and seems to be a major factor in assuring fiscal and organizational feasibility.The students in the recovery high schools studied were predominantly white (78%), with about one-half from two parent homes. Overall parent educational levels suggest a higher mean SES than in the general population. Most students (78%) had prior formal treatment for substance use disorders, often concomitantly with treatment for mental health concerns, and were often referred by treatment providers. Students came with a broad and complex range of mental health issues, traumatic experiences, drug use patterns, criminal justice involvement, and educational backgrounds. The complexity of these problems clearly limits the enrollment capacity of the schools.Retrospective pretest to post-test analysis suggests significant reduction in substance use as well as in mental health symptoms among the students. Students were very positive in their assessment of the therapeutic value of the schools, but less enthusiastic regarding the educational programs. The school programs appear to successfully function as continuing care to reinforce and sustain the therapeutic benefits students gained from their treatment experiences.

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