The Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre (AARC) is a long-term treatment program for adolescents suffering from substance dependency. The AARC program is often the last resort for addicted youth (ages 13-21) and their families who have exhausted numerous social agencies and treatment programs, with little to no success.

AARC offers comprehensive assessment, treatment, and aftercare programs. It is built on four primary therapeutic modalities:

  • Twelve Step facilitation including Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and Al-Anon (for families and friends of alcoholic/addicts)
  • Positive peer influence
  • Group, family, and individual therapy
  • Rehabilitation of functional family relationships.

The AARC program is divided into structured stages of treatment that are designed to help clients attain specific milestones in their recovery. As the client progresses through the stages, they are given more responsibilities and are gradually reintegrated back into society. The stages have corresponding AA/NA steps that our clients learn in order to gain daily living coping skills that replace dependence on drugs and/or alcohol. Each client completes the AARC program at their own pace but on average, clients finish the program in 10 months.

After the completion of the AARC program, clients are encouraged to attend weekly aftercare group sessions for 6 months. This provides new graduates with support as they transition from treatment back into the community.

Integrated Family Treatment

“Involvement of a family member or significant other in an individual’s treatment can strengthen and extend treatment benefits” (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2012).

Family Systems Theory is integrated into AARC’s treatment modality recognizing that the whole family is affected by the addicted adolescent. Family members can experience a wide array of feelings including confusion, blame, anger, sadness, and loss. Active addiction can strain relationships within the family. This can lead to hardships and turmoil within marriages, and can also leave siblings of addicted adolescents feelings isolated and neglected.

At AARC we feel it is important to provide treatment for the whole family and engage them in their own recovery. Family members are educated about the disease of addiction, have their own individual counseling sessions and weekly group sessions, and are encouraged to attend Al-Anon meetings in the community. This provides family members with support and insight into how their behaviour was/is affected by the active addict. This psycho-educational approach can provide emotional relief and healing, and can foster an environment that allows for family relationships to be restored. Family involvement can also benefit the quality of treatment for the adolescent suffering from addiction.

Long-term Treatment Model:

Research indicates that addicted individuals need at least three months in treatment to significantly stop or reduce their drug use, and best outcomes occur with longer durations of treatment.
(National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 2012)

Unlike the majority of adolescent treatment programs that are between 30-60 days in length, AARC’s treatment program length averages 10 months. Research has shown that long-term treatment demonstrated significantly higher levels of continued sobriety, provided more opportunities to advance life skills, and situated clients better able to integrate into the community of recovery (Burgess 2005).
Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide

Peer Counselors

Peer counsellors provide hope that recovery is possible

Mclean, Biggs, & Whitehead, 2009

Peer counselling is a vital component of treatment in not only detention but also in the ability they possess to relate with clients due to closeness in age as well as past experience of a drug lifestyle. Clients at all levels noted with equal favorability the significance of the Peer Counsellor (Vause, 1994a, p.8).

One of the greatest assets that AARC possesses is the peer counselors who mentor clients during their treatment. Peer counselors, employed by AARC, undertake 57 hours of training annually. This training consists of formalized addiction training to meet the standards of accreditation.

Peer counsellors use their personal experience to help others suffering from the same mental illness, and provide a positive role model for clients to identify with

Smith-Merry, Freeman & Sturdy, 2011

Dr. Lori Hogg, McSc., MD, FRCP/C Consulting Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist has also been impressed by AARC Peer Counsellors:

Without AARC, many of these teens would not have a chance for survival, let alone any kind of mental health. It is truly a privilege for me to work with AARC. The entire teams, but especially the Peer Counsellors, are my heroes.

** It is important to note that peer staff at AARC are closely supervised by the clinical staff who are educated in the field of addiction and/or mental health. Peer counselors provide support and mentorship to clients while in treatment.

Continuing Care (Developing a Community of Support)

Recovering addicts who enter a community of support post-treatment have higher success rates in maintaining long-term sobriety in comparison to those who do not (Schaefer et al., 2011). The AARC program strives to ensure that all clients are provided with support to successfully reintegrate back into society. AARC offers clients continued care in their recovery post treatment for as long as they need through the following supports:

Exit Plan

An exit plan is a personalized plan provided for every client prior to graduating the program. It outlines a schedule of recovery oriented activities, identifies specific triggers for the client, and provides an action plan for dealing with problems that may arise after graduation.

After Care

Aftercare is a weekly group session hosted at AARC for graduates of the program. Aftercare provides graduates a safe environment to share their struggles in sobriety that may occur after treatment. Aftercare also helps to keep graduates connected with one another, effectively maintaining positive peer relationships.

Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous (AA/NA) and Al-Anon Integration

AARC supports clients in their integration into AA and NA groups by hosting biweekly AA meetings at the centre. Also, when clients are further along in the program they are encouraged to go to AA and NA meetings in the community. Finally, we suggest that clients find an AA or NA sponsor by the time they have completed treatment. Al-Anon, a community support group for family and friends of alcoholic/addicts is also strongly recommended for AARC families.

Creating a Community of Recovery

AARC staff, donors, and alumni have created a community of recovery. We maintain an open door policy for our graduates and their families to return and attend various group sessions as well as alumni activities hosted by AARC alumni parents throughout the year. This creates a safe and recovery-oriented environment for our graduate population to interact in positive supportive relationships.

Recovery Homes

Recovery Homes are the private residencies of families in treatment. All parents in treatment go through vigorous training as outlined by the Canadian Accreditation Council of Human Services.

For the entirety of Level 1, clients in treatment reside in Recovery Homes belonging to families further along in the treatment process. When clients progress to Level 2 of treatment, they return to their own families and, in turn, provide a safe and secure Recovery Home for other clients progressing within Level 1 of the program.

While in Recovery Homes, clients entering treatment have an opportunity to identify with a sober client further along in treatment who has re-integrated into the family system. This provides the Level 1 client with an opportunity to experience recovery in a healthy family setting while living in a new way of life.

Recovery homes also give clients a break from the scheduled therapy which happens throughout the day. These breaks at the end of the night allow clients to have a period of time where they can relax away from the AARC facility.

All AARC Recovery Homes are accredited by the Canadian Accreditation Council of Human Services (CAC). Click here for further information.

“Recovery homes are an amazing component of the AARC treatment model. When it became time for us to open our host home, AARC provided us with thorough training and checked our house with the utmost care to ensure safety for all. Never once did we feel at risk over the several months that we operated a host home, yet we knew we had the immediate assistance of AARC if any problems did arise, something we never had before coming to AARC. Our daughter was trained as a host home old-comer so she could provide leadership to the new-comer and we all followed very strict rules and protocols. Not only did this provide our daughter with an opportunity to take responsibility, regain health boundaries, and give back to other young people, it once again modelled to new clients that there is a way out of the disease of addiction.”

Wendy Frisby, Ph.D., AARC Graduate Parent; Professor, University of British Columbia, Chair Women’s and Gender Studies