Relapse Prevention for Teens in Recovery

Teens who are struggling to overcome substance abuse problems often have a much more difficult road ahead of them than adults who are fighting drug addiction and alcoholism. The combination of a teen’s still-developing brain that leads to poor impulse control, his limited perspective and life experiences, and his social networks and peer pressure often create the perfect storm to undermine every rehab effort and to push him toward one or more relapses Awareness of the problem is a good first step toward preventing relapses for teens who are recovering from drug addiction or alcoholism. Other specific steps can further reduce that risk.

“Teen’s Relapse Triggers”
Relapses are frequently a function of triggers that entice a recovering substance abuser back to drug or alcohol use. A teen’s relapse triggers might include exposure to drug or alcohol use among his peers, visiting physical locations where he previously used different substances, as well as more common teen emotional traits such as mood swings, stress responses, boredom, and self-pity. Parents and counselors who are working to keep a recovering teen away from a relapse should try to identify as many potential triggers as they can and then help him structure his schedule and daily routines to prevent any encounters with those triggers.

“Identifying Triggers”
Identifying triggers can help keep a teen away from them, but avoiding all relapse triggers at all times will not be possible. Teens also need tools and techniques to help them fend off the pressure they feel when they are faced with a relapse trigger. Those tools and techniques can include a heightened sense of awareness or “mindfulness” of the relapse risks, or connecting the teen with one or more recovery sponsors whom the teen can contact any time of day or night for support in staying away from drugs. Like adults who are struggling to overcome addiction, teens can also avoid relapse temptations by staying busy with exercise, creative endeavors like art and writing, and connecting with nature. Teens who find themselves bored or who begin to feel too good about their recoveries may find that relapse temptations are increasing. Learning to avoid relapse triggers and developing techniques to confront them are not one-time events, but both need to be ongoing processes that a recovering teen practices and relearns throughout his recovery.

“Unnecessary Relapse”
Teens and adults alike further should understand that contrary to some popular culture opinions, relapses do not need to be a normal or necessary part of addiction recovery. The incidents of relapses among recovering teen addict and alcoholics may be high, but relapse is not inevitable. A teen who expects to relapse will have a harder time dealing with relapse triggers than one who approaches recovery as a continuing activity with no inevitable milestones or backward steps.
A teen who does relapse should not conclude that his recovery is a failure. Rather, he can immediately reconnect with a sponsor and support group to get his recovery back on track and to continue his recovery and rehab process. His sponsors and counselors can help him examine what caused the relapse and his recovery can be restructured to help him avoid a relapse in a similar situation. Sometimes, this can be as simple as simple as eating well and getting enough sleep so that the teen has a better general sense of how much better he acts and feels when he is sober. He may be experiencing symptoms of other psychosocial problems, including mild depression or anxiety that need to be treated separately. When a relapse is viewed from this perspective and caregivers provide the right response, a teen can come away from a relapse stronger and with even greater resolve to stay with his recovery.

Sustain Recovery Services in southern California helps adolescents and young adults to stay on track with the rehab and recovery programs and to avoid relapses that drive them back to substance abuse. Please see our website or call us at 949-407-9052 for more information about our services or to arrange a confidential consultation with one of our counselors.