Are Recovery High Schools Really Working?

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According to the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than 341,000 young people between the ages of 12 and 17 enter addiction rehab programs each year. National research shows that most “traditional schools” are not equipped to handle students in the early stages of sobriety. In fact, 8 out of 10 students who return to their previous schools relapse within a year. Enter the recovery high school.

What is a Recovery High School?

Recovery high schools (also known as “sober schools”) are designed for students recovering from drug and alcohol addiction or co-occurring disorders.

The schools were developed in response to exceedingly high relapse rates among students who left treatment and immediately returned to their previous high school settings.The schools were developed in response to exceedingly high relapse rates among students who left treatment and immediately returned to their previous high school settings. These programs focus on state recognized learning goals and continued sobriety.

The first recovery high school, Sobriety High, opened in Minnesota in 1989. Its first official class had only two students, but enrollment eventually swelled to more than 100. Today, there are approximately 25 recovery schools operating in eight states. Plans are in the works to establish several more over the next five years.

The specialized recovery schools are not treatment centers. Each is an academic institution offering accredited courses for graduation. In addition to learning and passing exams, students must also work an individualized recovery program.

Students must complete an application process to attend sober high schools. While the learning facilities generally have similar goals, each school runs differently. Most require students to complete a rehab program and have 30 days of sobriety prior to admittance. Additionally, potential students must have an honest desire to succeed in education and recovery. Students must remain sober and participate in outside plans of recovery.

Do Recovery High Schools Work?

Recovery schools have been a tremendous success, reducing the incidence of relapse and boosting graduation rates.

When it’s all said and done, the students who attend recovery high schools generally experience:

  • Sustained sobriety
  • Higher attendance
  • Increased grade point averages

According to Andrew Finch, assistant professor of counseling at Vanderbilt University, outcome studies show positive results. For example, relapse rates drop to just 30 percent for students graduating from a recovery school.

Some of the most impressive recovery high school statistics include:

Anchor Learning Academy (2012-2013 school year)

  • Students enrolled. 17
  • Graduation Rates: 100percent
  • Students completing year: 13
  • Full year retention rate 76.47 percent
  • Average stay for students: 6.3 months

William J. Ostiguy High School (2007-2008 school year)

  • Students enrolled: 39
  • Graduated: 8
  • Advanced a grade level/returning: 13
  • No longer enrolled/pursuing GED: 3
  • No longer enrolled/terminated for violation of school policy: 5

Hope Academy (2011-2012 school year)

  • Tuition-free, public charter high school
  • Students enrolled: 56
  • Attendance rate: 90.1 percent
  • Retention rate: 45 percent

Archway Academy (2011-2012 school year)

  • Largest recovery high school in the country
  • Students enrolled: 69
  • One-year sobriety rate: 87 percent
  • Of 18 graduates, 16 enrolled in college
  • Graduating honors students are eligible for automatic admission to any Texas public university


If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol and drug addiction, it’s important to know your options for addiction treatment. Call 1-888-319-2606Who Answers? and speak to a recovery advisor today.

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