In the beginning

Long-term treatment options for youth suffering from substance abuse and addiction were rare before 1990 in Alberta or Canada. In response to the needs of youth and families for intensive help, the Government of Alberta funded families to attend treatment in the United States. One of the facilities that treated a number of Alberta families was an organization called KIDS of Bergen County in New Jersey.

In an effort to address the shortage of long-term treatment options the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre (AARC) was established in Calgary in 1990 as a non-profit Alberta company, with a grant from the Government of Alberta and a donation from the Rotary Club of Calgary. Under the guidance of AARC’s first board led by Chuck Simpson, a clinical team was hired to develop the model and its policies and procedures. In 1992 the current building at Forge Road SE was leased and renovated so that the first clients could be admitted.

Dr. Dean Vause

Dean Vause first became aware of the destructive impact of drug and alcohol abuse on students during his career as a high school counsellor. His search for practical help for troubled students and their families in Saskatchewan led him to investigate the many treatment options available in North America. In 1989 Vause began his PhD at the Union Institute of Cincinnati. In that same year he worked briefly for KIDS of Bergen County in New Jersey, where many Canadians were being treated. There he witnessed a residential regime that failed the children in its care; he left after a few months, disillusioned by KIDS’ process which compromised the rights and dignity of young people, and returned to Canada.

In August of 1990 Vause was consulting for the Kaiser Foundation in Vancouver when he was hired by AARC as the Clinical Director to use his unique experience to help build the treatment model.

In November of 1991 Vause was promoted by AARC’s board to the position of Executive Director.

Treating adolescents is complex

Despite AARC’s success, the treatment of young people with addiction is bound to be controversial, since almost no teenager will volunteer for treatment, especially long-term, semi-residential care. Many of AARC’s clients are heavily addicted, some are violent, some have been imprisoned, and many have mental health issues. In response to changes in legislation, new research and best practices, the AARC model is constantly being refined but consists of these significant elements:

  • use of AA’s 12 Step model
  • an insistence on lifelong abstinence as the only defence against addiction
  • use of peer counsellors actively engaged in recovery to provide hope and guidance to clients
  • treatment of comorbidity (mental health) issues faced by clients
  • providing equal access to cost effective treatment through a subsidized funding model
  • an insistence that the client’s family all commit to recovery
  • semi-residential care provided by senior client’s families in their own homes
  • continuation of education or employment during later stages of treatment
  • providing ongoing support through aftercare services and a vibrant alumni community
  • dedication to providing proactive solutions to addiction through our community intervention and education programs

The AARC facility has treated over 630 adolescents and families, with high levels of success. Success for AARC means sobriety, reconnection with family and return to school or work.

Program Research and Outcomes

Research shows strong evidence that AARC's treatment model is an effective intervention that promotes abstinence from drugs and alcohol among a sizeable portion of addicted youth.

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