What to Do When Your Teen Relapses

Relapses are not uncommon events when a teen or adolescent is struggling through recovery from drug addiction or alcoholism. There may be as many schools of thought about how parents and families should handle a teen’s relapse into drug or alcohol use as there are reasons and rationalizations for what caused that relapse in the first instance. Although no one reaction to that relapse will guarantee the long-term success or failure of an addiction recovery program, parents and family members can take certain steps to ensure that their reactions do not reinforce further negative behavior or that sabotage a teen’s continuing efforts to stay away from drugs or alcohol.

“Teen Relapses”
The parents’ first order of business following a teen’s relapse is to acknowledge and understand their own feelings and reactions about the teen’s use of drugs or alcohol. An emotional response that is catalyzed by those feelings will not necessarily be the most effective response to prevent further relapses. Parents can feel angry, confused, frustrated, or totally drained by their prior and continuing efforts to help their teen’s recovery. These feelings are natural among family members who have close emotional ties to each other, but they can impede a more objective and positive response that might come from someone who is not governed by emotions and relationships.

“Rational Consequences”
This is not to say that parents should refrain from imposing certain consequences in response to a teen’s relapse. Rather, those consequences should be rational and positive responses that are designed to keep or return the teen to a better recovery track. For example, rather than grounding and isolating a teen as punishment for using drugs or alcohol, parents should consider contacting the teen’s recovery counselors and 12-step and recovery group sponsors for assistance, and become more involved in confirming that the teen is continuing his participation in the recovery process. This will help the teen to understand that he will experience consequences when he relapses without rousing his own defensiveness and negative emotions when a parent simply lashes out at him.

“Family Support Groups”
Family support groups can be a strong tool to help exasperated parents deal with their own feelings over a teen’s relapse. Parents who internalize or ignore their emotions will find their own energy and resolve is flagging as they struggle to help their teens. Parents and other family members need to continue to take care of themselves while their teen family member is dealing with his addiction and relapse on his own terms. An addicted or alcoholic teen who acknowledges that he is responsible for his own recovery as well as for his relapses will be more likely to experience a successful and long-term recovery. Parents who assume the teen’s struggles as their own and who fail to pay attention to their own needs are not doing any favors for their child.

“Remain Positive”
Parents and other family members who remain positive in the face of a relapse can also be examples of healthy and sober living. Parents who themselves resort to drugs or alcohol to take the edge off of the stress of a teen’s relapse are demonstrating a worse example for that teen. A parent’s response and reactions to a relapse will set a strong example for a teen who faces subsequent relapse triggers. A parent who responds positively but with appropriate consequences will establish a pattern that the teen will expect if and when he is tempted to use drugs and alcohol, and that pattern and the teen’s expectations can help to keep him away from abused substances at a later time.

Sustain Recovery Services in southern California works with parents and families who are struggling to help teens and adolescents to overcome drug addiction and alcoholism. We provide customized individual treatment plans for teens while helping their parents with their own feelings about a teen’s substance abuse and the prospects of relapses after an initial recovery. 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.