Fifteen miles northeast of downtown Newport Beach, amid bougainvillea and rose gardens, are the two red-tile-roofed, Spanish-style residences that make up the teen rehab center Newport Academy. At any one time, as many as 12 kids—six young men and six young women, in treatment for everything from alcohol abuse and Oxy addiction to eating disorders and cutting—call this pair of intimate, gender-segregated campuses home.
The 12- to 18-year-olds who get sober at this Southern California drug-and-alcohol rehab are largely white and well-off, although a limited number of scholarships do allow a few messed-up kids who might not otherwise be able to afford such a tony treatment center to check in as well. Gay and bisexual teenagers won’t feel out of place at all: Although most residents are straight, sexual orientation doesn’t seem to make much difference to Newport Academy kids—which is a good thing, because everyone rooms with someone else.
As befits an adolescent rehab, the daily schedule at Newport Academy is strictly regimented. Mornings are the same all week long, with reveille at 7:30 am, followed by showers, breakfast and chores. Residents are required to keep their bed- and bathrooms tidy, as well as wash dishes and keep their house kitchen clean. But the chore-load isn’t onerous: “I felt as though everything was fair,” said one teenager.
After breakfast, a half-hour of meditation leads into two hours of school—the only time kids are allowed to use the Internet—and therapy groups. The afternoon is occupied by a further two hours of classes, as well as a variety of back-to-back therapeutic, life-skills and exercise groups, on topics including nutrition, family issues, spirituality, yoga, cardio, art and music therapy, relapse prevention, gardening, relationships and healthy attachment, and more. Newport Academy requires 20 hours of school per week and 30 hours of therapy/counseling—with eight to 16 hours per week for family programs. (Also under the teen rehab's umbrella is a sober high school and an intensive outpatient program.)
"Equine-assisted psychotherapy" is offered to girls and boys alike, with the rehab center citing the “unique sensitivity” that horses have to “the feelings and emotional distress of individuals.” It's not all touchy-feely, though: Newport Academy also provides mixed martial arts (MMA) classes, which for the women take on more of a self-defense flavor—whereas for punching-inclined teenage boys, it serves as an opportunity to release aggression, as one former resident put it. Other extracurricular high points include cooking classes and field trips “into the real world,” such as learning photography on a hike through the picturesque California outback—or even the odd frozen yogurt run.
All that activity is sure to work up an appetite, which Newport Academy satiates with fresh and healthy meals prepared by Executive Chef Christina Meija. Nutrition-wise, she focuses on getting kids to eat adequate amounts of protein, vitamins and “micronutrients”—especially important for young addicted women, who often struggle with food issues—as well as nutritional supplements such as pharmaceutical-grade fish oil. Junior caffeine and ice-cream junkies are out of luck, though: Newport Academy doesn’t allow coffee, and sweets are doled out only on special occasions. Healthy snacks are always available.
Evenings at the teen rehab are devoted to a lot of non-religious 12-step and YPAA (Young People in Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings, including half-hour blocks of time for phone calls and a nightly 10th step. Phone usage is pretty closely monitored—staff dials the number for the resident, and then hands the phone to him or her—although you earn more calling privileges as time goes on. There’s not much opportunity to watch TV—pretty much only on Sundays—and when the kids do, what they briefly veg out to is determined by group vote. But perhaps the best detail in the annals of rehab deprivation is the fact that each Newport Academy house has a “community iPod” on which the residents can collectively load up their music—if, that is, they've earned the privilege to listen to music.
Despite these strictures, Newport Academy kids reportedly really feel the love from the doctors, therapists and psychiatrists who circulate around the residences “constantly,” as well as from the rehab’s “Care Coordinators,” first-aid and CPR-certified technicians who, for example, didn’t hesitate to quickly patch up one young person after the couple of times he had “some issues.” The place sounds, on the whole, like a strict but loving environment, where rules are enforced directly and with consistency—but in a respectful manner, without making the residents feel inferior.
All of this adds up to a “real treatment center,” about which teen alumni may come to see their time in residence at as “a wonderful way to live, looking back on it.”