Teaching Relapse Prevention Skills to Teens



A person with addiction can return to substance abuse any time following a period of being clean. Doctors refer to it officially as ‘relapse.’ Drug addiction relapse happens in approximately 40-60% of cases. It may pop up when least expected yet it is something which can affect a person for the lifespan. The first few months and years of recovery are the most critical which is why teaching relapse prevention skills is important.

Stages of Relapse

Teens who battle addiction often experience unpredictability in many areas of life and relapse can throw yet another wrench into plans. The three areas that may trigger relapse include:


Social and emotional challenges of recovery affect many people and are exacerbated in adolescence. Counseling is typically encouraged to assist teens in harnessing the power of emotions. Depression, odd behavior and mood swings may indicate a teen needs help, even if it’s just in the form of conversation.


Stress and anxiety are two big factors in substance abuse for teens. Overwhelming feelings occur but for a teen addicted to drugs or alcohol, it may seem like a logical solution to the difficult emotions surfacing. Intuition matters in this situation. If it feels like it may be happening, it may be true so pay attention and offer help.


The body responds mentally and emotionally to the stages of relapse. Malnutrition, trouble sleeping and other physical symptoms are all signs a teen is struggling. A physical decline may be a sign relapse is not far behind or may have already happened. It is merely a matter of time until the teen’s mind wanders off to find drugs or alcohol to help resolve the problem.

Know the Triggers

Relapse triggers are events or situations which can be risky for recovery. This varies but coping skills and behaviors are helpful in supporting teens who struggle with potentially disastrous scenarios in recovery. Triggers may include a friend, another person, place, old relationship, situation or hard feelings which arise. Other situations may include:

  • Frustration
  • Boredom
  • Exhaustion
  • Impatience
  • Pressure
  • Self-pity
  • Cockiness
  • Argumentative nature

Common ways to cope include exercise, creative ventures, learning, social interaction, meditation, going outside, mindfulness and other ways to be healthy.

Teens need a lot of support in recovery. It is not just about finding ways of coping but having people in relationship close to the teen who notice when things are happening and can offer help and kind words. It helps to find a facility that provides support when it seems nothing else is working. A good facility will have trained professionals who are able to help the teen cope and get back on track to a healthy recovery.


Sustain Recovery provides a safe, comfortable space to dive into the deeper reasons for relapse and addiction. If your teen is struggling, there is hope. Reach out to Sustain to find out how we can help your teen get back on the path to a healthier recovery with individualized plans, goal setting and more to support their journey.