In a recovery high school, students can complete an individualized course of study, move toward graduation and reduce their risk of drug use and relapse.

Teens who are struggling with drug and alcohol misuse may benefit from attending recovery high schools. In such an educational setting, teens can complete their coursework while also receiving the support they need for continued healing and recovery.

Article at a Glance:

Recovery high schools are specialized programs that meet the needs of students recovering from addiction, and research shows the following key findings:

  • Recovery high schools offer the option to obtain a high school diploma, but specific educational offerings can vary from school to school.
  • Recovery schools are smaller than traditional high schools and do not offer as many advanced placement classes, electives or extracurriculars.
  • At a recovery school, students can complete a flexible and individualized course of study, allowing them to compensate for missed schooling and move toward graduation.
  • Supportive services, such as recovery coaching, counseling and relapse prevention, are offered to students attending sober schools.
  • In a recovery school setting, students receive reinforcement for abstinence and are less likely to use drugs.

What Are Recovery High Schools?

According to the Association of Recovery Schools, a recovery high school is a secondary education program that meets the needs of teens who are in recovery. The students may be suffering from substance use disorders or co-occurring mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. In a recovery high school, students can receive supportive services for substance misuse and mental health while completing their high school diplomas. These schools may also be known as sober high schools.

Who Should Go to a Recovery High School?

Teens who are in treatment for or struggling with a substance use disorder should attend a sober school. According to research conducted with recovery high schools, many of these institutions require that students have an official diagnosis with a substance use disorder. It is also common for students to sign a contract agreeing to remain sober prior to admission. Students who are diagnosed with both an addiction and a mental illness can also attend recovery high schools.

Students who have previously received treatment for addiction can find recovery high schools to be beneficial. This is because these schools provide a safe option for students who are transitioning back to school after receiving treatment. According to the research, some sober schools do require students to have completed treatment elsewhere prior to being admitted. Most schools require that students must also attend therapy outside of the school setting while enrolled. In addition, students are often required to demonstrate a 30-day period of abstinence before admittance.

Where are Recovery High Schools Located?

The Association of Recovery Schools provides a complete list of recovery high schools, which are found in various locations across the country. There are numerous recovery high schools in the states of:

  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Texas
  • California

There are also one to two recovery high schools in each of these states:

  • New Jersey
  • Colorado
  • Washington
  • Wyoming
  • Wisconsin
  • Tennessee
  • Rhode Island
  • Pennsylvania
  • Oklahoma
  • New Jersey
  • Indiana
  • Florida

The schools included on the list are member schools with the Association of Recovery Schools, so there may be additional recovery high schools located near you. If you are looking for a recovery school in your area, a professional from a treatment center or your local juvenile justice system can help you to locate one that meets your family’s needs.

Recovery High Schools vs. Traditional High Schools

There are differences between recovery high schools and traditional schools. According to research with drug rehab high schools, these programs can be separate from other schools or be housed within another high school or an alternative school program. Many recovery schools are linked to the public school system, but students in recovery programs are often separated from traditional students. Because of this, some key differences emerge.


The curriculum offered in recovery high schools differs from traditional programs. Experts report that curriculum at these schools follows state standards, but the course of study is individualized to meet each student’s unique needs. Students attending recovery schools may be behind academically due to substance use, which may have caused them to have a considerable number of absences from school.

The research shows that there is also variability in the way that each recovery high school teaches the curriculum. Most programs involve teachers giving in-person instruction. Some schools offer online learning and individualized packets to supplement what teachers provide in the classroom. Compared to traditional programs, students in recovery schools tend to have more flexible academic programming as well as more independent work.

Because of limited staff and small class sizes, recovery high schools are often unable to offer traditional high school programs like advanced placement classes or special electives. Though these extra offerings may be limited, drug rehab high schools still provide the curriculum required to obtain a high school diploma.


Another difference is the access to supportive services in the school setting. While traditional high schools employ guidance counselors who provide academic advice and teen resources, they are not specially trained to treat substance use disorders. Staff in recovery school settings are trained to meet the needs of students who are struggling with addiction.

Most students in recovery high schools report that their school offers strong therapy services. In addition, a studyshows that most sober high schools employ at least one licensed counselor, with some programs having two to three counselors on staff. Students in recovery high schools can also participate in individual counseling with an adult and take part in group counseling sessions. These programs typically employ substance misuse counselors who can help students cope with mental health challenges, support them in sobriety and provide treatment as necessary. Recovery schools may also employ recovery coaches who provide additional counseling and support beyond what is offered in traditional high schools


One disadvantage of recovery high schools is that they are small in size, so extracurricular activities are often limited. Students in traditional high school settings have the option to participate in sports and clubs, but those in recovery schools may not have these opportunities. Some students can participate in sports or clubs within their local school districts, but there is also the risk of being exposed to drugs and relapsing when participating in activities offered by traditional schools. Students enrolled in recovery schools are focused on abstinence and should carefully weigh the risks and benefits of participating in extracurriculars.

Benefits of Recovery High Schools

Despite their small size, recovery schools offer numerous benefits to students with addictions. One benefit is the individualized academic programs that these schools provide. Students who have fallen behind educationally can complete a program that meets their needs and make progress toward high school graduation while at a sober school. In a traditional school setting, they might be unable to complete such an individualized course of study. Students who graduate from recovery schools can still find success after high school. A school in Indiana has seen 34 of 35 recent graduates be accepted to post-secondary institutions.

Other benefits of recovery schools include the focus on abstinence and the reduced risk of relapse among students. Teens who attend traditional high schools may have access to drugs and be around the same peers who encouraged their substance use. In a recovery school setting, students are separated from mainstream peers and are less likely to relapse. One study found that students who attend these drug rehab schools have fewer school absences, are more likely to remain sober and are less likely to use marijuana and other drugs.

If your teen is struggling with an addiction and may benefit from a recovery high school, The Recovery Village is here to help. Our caring staff is always available to talk with you and provide information about these schools and other treatment services. Contact us today to learn more about treatment options and available resources.

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Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW
Dr. Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has over seven years working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health diagnoses. Read more

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Coyle, Sue. “Recovery high schools: Getting an education and learning to stay clean and sober.” “>Recovery[…]nd sober.”  Social Work Today, June 2015. Accessed July 25, 2019. 

Hennessy, Emily. “Recovery schools for improving behavioral and academic outcomes among students in recovery from substance use disorders: A systematic review.” Campbell Systematic Reviews, October 4, 2018. Accessed July 25, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.