Wilderness Programs – An Option for Rehabilitation of Drug Affected Teenagers

The use of illegal drugs is a common problem in our society, and it is a big problem that is affecting our youth. There are many wonderful wilderness programs that are specifically designed to help youth who have drug problems get their lives back on track. Teenagers that are using drugs have a variety of reasons for doing so. They may want to fit in, to have confidence or they may take drugs to deal with depression. Removing them from those triggers of their drug abuse and placing them in a calm environment is a step in the right direction.


Wilderness programs allow teenagers to see that they have control over their own lives. That is very important to them because too often they feel that they don’t fit in, that they aren’t important, and that what they do doesn’t really matter. Intervening now can help them to get off the drugs and focus their attention on more positive aspects of their lives. This is where a retreat to a wilderness program can be of tremendous help in giving a youth a sense of control over their own lives.


Even though a wilderness program can be a rewarding experience, it can be tough. Parents need to be ready for letters coming home telling them how difficult it is. There are many rules to follow as well that are part of the structure of the program. Many teens are not pleased with the idea of so many rules. Nonetheless, those rules will be enforced. Yet these teens quickly see that in spite of the structure they are able to make some real progress. And when a youth sees that he or she can realize genuine success within a structured environment, that is a big step toward functioning in the outside world successfully as well.

Focus on the Positive

A teenager that has had problems with drugs, parents, the law, and even academically may feel that everything around them is negative. That type of mindset can be hard to overcome. However, in a wilderness program, the focus is on the positive. There are many challenges but everything is encouraging and that helps the teenager to change their own mindset.

You can’t just tell a teenager to think positive and then expect it to happen. However, if they are given constant examples of it they will start to see the benefits from it. They will realize they would rather live their life from that approach than one which continues to be negative all the time.

The progress your son or daughter will make at a wilderness program will be amazing. But it will take place slowly so that the teenager may not realize the transformation until it occurs. They won’t be trying to resist it. But once a teen gets that positive mindset in the context of the wilderness program, they can see the good in themselves, in others, and in situations they face at home and at school.


Nothing drives a teen to do better than when they get a taste of success. That will be there for them during wilderness programs. This is going to encourage them to continue down a path that helps them to achieve more success. Youth will quickly get addicted to the feeling of success and become convinced that they are capable of great things. That feeling will be enhanced when adults and their peers around them recognizing their successes at the wilderness camp as well.

Many kids come into the program saying “I won’t do that” or “I can’t do that”. However, by the time it is done, those same youth come home excited to share with their family all that they were able to do. That belief in themselves is a natural high, and one that no drug can match.

Focusing on their success can help them to eliminate the sting from failures of the past. This is an important objective in the overall recovery process for any teen that has had a drug problem. That feeling of value and self worth is very important. Parents can tell their children again and again how special they are. Yet if that child doesn’t feel it from the inside out they won’t believe it.


Wilderness programs put a new spin on therapy and it is a spin that helps young people overcome their use of drugs. Teens usually aren’t happy about the idea of going to a counselor for an hour and talking. Yet when they are doing the wilderness program they feel relaxed and willing to open up. The results are much better because the teens are willing participants instead of in a forced environment.

Understanding that they aren’t the only ones feeling a certain way can help a teen to open up. Who better to understand them than other teens that have walked in their shoes? The bonding experience of a wilderness adventure helps all of them to regain control, to accept responsibility, and to make a commitment to themselves for changes in their future.

Conflicting emotions have to be worked through. Many times what seems like a depressed teen is one that is afraid to say how he or she feels. One that seems angry all the time is really scared. When you remove the drugs, you remove the barriers the kids put up to others, they are able to express what they need and who they are.

Developing Skills They Will Use for Life

Most wilderness programs last from 6 to 9 weeks. That is enough time for a teenager to see some amazing changes. It can be the foundation that they need to realize drugs are not the answer. Developing skills in areas of communication, conflict resolution, and problem solving empower a teenager to come out of wilderness camp able to live drug free.

Having a better way of dealing with the things that go on in life is very important. That can give a teen the strength they need to feel good about themselves and to avoid drugs. It can give them the motivation they need to talk openly with parents and to make efforts in school as well.


When a teen leaves a wilderness program, they have likely come a long way from when they first started. They are able to move forward and past the drug use. However, there are still things they need to work on. Communication within the family needs to get stronger so that any issues can be addressed.

Support at home after the youth finishes a wilderness program is essential for permanent change to happen. Having that structure there will help to reduce the risk of a teen slipping back into patterns of old behavior. Even if you have tried these methods before, do them again after the wilderness program has been completed. You will likely discover that your teenager is more willing to work with them rather than fighting them every step of the way because of what they learned during the weeks they spend at a wilderness program.