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Can You Force A Teen To Go To Rehab?


teenagers holding hands at rehab

The teenage years are filled with new experiences, shifting hormones, physiological maturation, challenging lessons, and a newfound need for autonomy. Teens are notoriously curious and are often known for testing boundaries and pushing limits. A teenager’s brain does not begin to reach its full development until age twenty-five, at the earliest. The prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain that reigns rational thought, executive planning, and impulse control) is the last to fully develop. This means that teenagers innately process, problem solve, and make decisions using their amygdala (the area of the brain that is most closely associated with impulsivity, aggression, emotion, and instinctive behavior). It is highly common for young people to experiment with drug use, but unfortunately, they often do so without considering the consequences. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) reported findings from a survey that found 58.8% of teenagers had consumed alcohol by their senior year in high school, and 47% had used illicit drugs. Some teenagers that experiment with drugs and/ or alcohol will go on to develop unhealthy habits and patterns surrounding substance use that may require treatment, and others may not. 

Depending on a teenager’s age, yes, in theory you could force a teenager to go to rehab. In fact, legally people younger than eighteen years old can be admitted to a residential drug rehab without their consent. A teenager that is eighteen years old or older cannot be forced to go to rehab, as they are legally considered an adult. As a parent there are few things more painful in life than witnessing your child suffer and struggling with substance abuse and/ or addiction is no exception. Substance use disorder, also known as addiction, is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a chronic brain disorder. It is characterized by compulsively engaging in rewarding stimuli (e.g., abusing drugs) without regard for consequence. If a teen does not feel a need to go to rehab, forcing him or her to attend will likely be ineffective. If your teen is averse to rehab, there are ways to help your teenager come to the realization that he or she would benefit from treatment and reach a place where he or she is willing to accept help. It is imperative to be mindful of the fact that you cannot help a person that is unwilling to help themselves.

For Information and Support

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives.

Our admissions team is available to answer any general questions regarding mental health issues, treatment, and/or specific questions about the program at Pacific Teen Treatment and how we might be able to help your family. We can be reached by phone 24/7 at 800-531-5769. You can also contact us via email at

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