Treatment (the Program)

AARC’s exceptional program

The AARC treatment program is specially designed for adolescents 12 to 21 years of age who are diagnosed with substance use disorder (DSM-5). The exceptional circumstances of adolescent addiction demand an exceptional treatment program. AARC recognizes addiction as a complex interaction between the biological, psychological, social, and spiritual. Our treatment model, widely endorsed by researchers, can most adequately explain the multidimensional nature of addiction.

Peer counsellors

Peer Counsellors

Since AARC treatment is based on the 12 Step Model, peer counselling is required. For adolescents, that means other young people.

Counsellors are aged 18 and over, sober for at least 18 months as graduates of the program and trained for over 57 hours each year. They share their personal experience, providing a positive role model for clients.

Supervised by AARC’s clinical staff, peer counsellors are crucial in connecting with clients through their ability to relate to the client’s struggles with addiction and road to recovery. Many clinical studies confirm this:

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

Family involvement


AARC believes strongly that the emotional dynamic within families can both be a barrier and an aid to recovery. Parents, siblings and other family members should be prepared to participate in the client’s treatment from beginning to end, as Family Systems Theory is integral to AARC’s treatment model.

Recovery Homes


One of the unique strengths of AARC’s model is its semi-residential component which is implemented through its use of Recovery Homes. While they spend the majority of their day at the centre, clients do not spend the night within the facility. Instead they go to the homes of client families further along in the program. This is critical to restoring the relationship between adolescents and their families, while at the same time offering a safe and caring environment for the new client being supervised in the home. This reintegration and building of a healthy home environment is monitored under the close supervision of AARC clinical staff and is incorporated into the ongoing therapy sessions for families and clients.

AARC’s Recovery Homes are private residences but are accredited by the Canadian Accreditation Council of Human Services. Parents are trained to deal with clients in their care. Additionally AARC supports the safety of recovery homes by being on call 24 hours a day to support any clinical issues or emergencies that may arise.

Although the concept of recovery homes seems counterintuitive to families whose homes in many cases have been out of control before entering AARC, it is largely considered one of the most profound and rewarding components of the program by families upon graduation.

“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 date?]

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.

12 Step Treatment Model


Treatment at AARC uses the 12 Steps (Alcoholics Anonymous), leading to total abstinence. This model recognizes that drug and alcohol addiction is a chronic disease requiring lifelong recovery. Clients are taught to apply the spiritual principles of Alcoholics Anonymous to their daily lives, as they establish a healthy network of sober friends and are able to move forward without the need to use drugs or alcohol.


AARC acknowledges that addiction is often accompanied by concurrent mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia. AARC treats adolescents in a way that addresses both addiction and mental health through the consulting services of Dr. Lori Hogg, AARC ‘s pediatric psychiatrist, who assesses and follows all clients suffering from concurrent disorders.



AARC has a core principle that treatment is available to all, and that nobody should be turned away for financial reasons.

To achieve this goal, subsidized treatment is always available — families only pay what they can afford. Families with high net income are required to pay full fees, but fees are reduced based on need for those on lower incomes. In 2014, fees paid by clients accounted for a fraction of the actual cost of operating the program, roughly 18% of revenues.

  • On average, for the last 3 years, 49 out of 62 client families received some level of subsidy

Aftercare services for clients and families

After completing the AARC program, clients are encouraged to attend weekly aftercare group sessions for six months. This provides new graduates with support as they transition from treatment back into the community. Aftercare also helps to keep graduates connected with one another, effectively maintaining positive peer relationships. Peer Counsellors continue to be available to AARC graduates for 1:1 support as needed. AARC also has a monthly aftercare program for graduate parents as a way to support healthy connections, wellness practices, and sustained recovery. Research into the success of post-treatment support can be found here.

Strong Alumni Community

AARC has an open-door policy for graduates and their families who want to attend group counseling sessions or support clients and families still in treatment. Many Alumni families volunteer their time to assist with AARC events and fundraising activities. For graduates, AARC becomes a safe community and a recovery-oriented environment for supportive relationships. Clients and families show their gratitude to AARC by returning to share their experience in hope of helping new clients and families in treatment.

Health & Nutrition

Addiction’s impact on adolescents often compromises both physical health and spiritual well-being. Throughout their treatment, both medical and naturopathic doctors consult with clients at AARC, and an onsite Registered Nurse is available to support their health needs. AARC’s full-time chef provides balanced and nutritional meals. Daily physical exercise is incorporated into each client’s treatment plan.

On-site Learning Centre (Calgary Board of Education)

All clients must attend classes during their time at AARC. Fully qualified teaching staff from Calgary Board of Education are on hand to guide clients through their studies.

Community Education and Prevention

Recognizing the devastating impact of addiction on individuals, families, and communities, AARC is very involved in numerous educational initiatives to support awareness, education, and prevention of drug and alcohol abuse. Our partnership with several public services opens up numerous opportunities for community education including: in-house community workshops; school presentations for students, parents and teachers; post-secondary presentations for nursing programs; and addiction certificate programs; as well as practicum placements for post-secondary counselling and addiction studies students.

Biological, psychological, social and spiritual treatment

AARC recognizes addiction as a complex interaction between the Biological, Psychological, Social, and Spiritual. Our treatment model, widely endorsed by treatment researchers can most adequately explain the multidimensional nature of addiction.

The AARC Model

AARC provides hope for those who are facing the worst crisis of their young lives. AARC takes an exceptional approach that treats young people in a way that reflects the exceptional challenges of youth. We call our approach bio-psycho-socio-spiritual because it takes into account the totality of teenage experience.

Biological, psychological, social and spiritual treatment

BIOLOGICAL: Abstinence is integral to the program.

AARC makes it clear to all would-be clients, parents and guardians that our treatment goal is lifelong abstinence. Clearly, it’s not possible to be 90% abstinent. In our view abstinence is the only risk-free option of chemically dependent adolescents, given the vulnerable nature of the maturing brain. Abstinence drives our direct approach and mandates our semi-residential program limiting the client’s access to their former lifestyle.

PSYCHO-SOCIAL: AARC does what’s best for kids.

AARC is authorized by a parent or guardian to take the adolescent into residential care until that individual is capable of staying sober. The decision to graduate, leaving the residential component of the program, is shared by the client, their clinical supervisor and an independent addiction expert (Dr. Peter Choate).

SPIRITUAL: AA’s 12 Steps involve a spiritual component, but not a specific religion or faith.

As part of the 12 steps that are the foundation of AARC’s program, clients are expected to adopt a spiritual way of living that is built around the principles of honesty, open-mindedness and willingness to help others. They are never asked to join a religious community, nor are they asked to take any oaths or perform any ceremonies.