Teen Recovery

Recovering from addiction is difficult for everyone, and teens recovering from addiction face a unique set of challenges. Teens need continued support from friends, family and therapists to decrease their chances of relapse. With the right type of support and hard work, teens can enjoy the rest of their youth free of addiction.
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Teens can begin the path to recovery from addiction in a variety of ways. During initial treatment, they may have joined a youth-focused 12-step program, spent time in a rehabilitation facility or visited a counselor or therapist on an outpatient basis.

Seeking professional help for addiction is a smart choice, but recovery doesn’t end after a 30-day or 60-day treatment plan. Those treatment plans help teens achieve sobriety and prepare them for long-term recovery. Long-term recovery requires hard work, lifestyle changes and continued support.

Quick Tips for Avoiding Relapse:

  • Avoid friends who use drugs.
  • Avoid isolation — make new friends.
  • Continue to attend counseling and therapy.
  • Join a support group.
  • Find healthy things to do.
  • Limit stress.

Addiction is a chronic disease. Like other chronic diseases, it requires long-term treatment, and relapse can occur. Some people continue to attend support groups or therapy for the rest of their lives.

Every situation is unique. Teens suffer from addiction for a variety of reasons, and each person’s path to recovery is different. The steps necessary for recovery will depend on a person’s family dynamic, existing co-occurring disorders and the environment outside of the home. However, every path to recovery includes some kind of continued support.

Aftercare Support

Short-term treatment is not enough to recover from addiction. Supervised detox is a great way to achieve sobriety, but continued recovery means changing the behavior that led to addiction in the first place. Short-term therapy can lay the foundation for long-term recovery, but aftercare support greatly increases the chances of long-lasting recovery.

The best treatment centers continue to provide care or access to care after inpatient treatment ends.

Teen aftercare services include:

  • Continued communication after a treatment plan is complete.
  • Outpatient therapy and counseling.
  • Follow-up appointments or phone calls.
  • Referral to community support groups or organizations.
  • Drug testing.
  • Family therapy for parents and siblings.
  • Coordinated communication with schools or law enforcement.

Continued Therapy

Ideally, teens should have received some kind of counseling or therapy during their initial treatment for addiction. Continuing that treatment on an outpatient basis greatly decreases the chances of relapse.

Approaches to therapy such as family-based therapy and behavioral approaches — including the adolescent community reinforcement approach, cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement therapy — haven proven to be effective with teens.

Family and Friends

Support from friends and family is incredibly valuable for teens in recovery. Parents, siblings and other family members should support their loved one by keeping their home free of drugs and stress. They should also consider attending family therapy if necessary.

Friends are also important. However, the wrong kinds of friends can be detrimental to recovery. Teens should break off friendships with peers who pressure them into abusing drugs or alcohol and make new friends with peers who make healthy decisions.

Support Groups

Support from peers is a proven predictor of recovery success. Studies have also shown that teens who attend Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings after an initial treatment program have more success than those who don’t.

Parents should work with teens to help them find a support group where they feel comfortable. Finding the right support group might take time, and teens might have to attend a variety of support group meetings before finding one they like.


Relapse is a common obstacle on the path to recovery. It’s important for teens to know that one mistake doesn’t equal relapse. Rather, relapse refers to a return to the detrimental, compulsive behavior that existed before treatment began. Mistakes or “slips” are more common than relapse, but an estimated one-third of teens relapse within the first three months after a 28-day treatment program.

Facts about teen relapse:

  • About 60 percent of teens relapse within the first year of recovery.
  • About 70 percent of teens who relapse are exposed to social pressure to do drugs.
  • About 64 percent of teens who relapse possessed a negative emotion such as anger, depression or anxiety.

It happens often enough that friends, family and teens in recovery should not be ashamed to talk about it. Teens and the people in their support system should learn to recognize the warning signs that relapse is about to occur or has occurred and understand how to recover from it.

Preventing Relapse

There are numerous steps teens can take to decrease the chances of relapse. Some are easier said than done, but it’s important to remember that recovery requires change.

Mother and daughter are having fun in autum nature

The most effective way to avoid relapse is to avoid stress. Research continues to indicate that people are more likely to relapse during periods of high stress than at any other time in life. That includes individuals who have been in recovery for years.

Teens should also avoid pressure from peers. When it comes to recovering from drug addiction, teens should avoid peers who use alcohol or other drugs. That might mean making new friends and avoiding old ones.

Teens should also be careful about the websites they visit on the internet and the people they follow or are friends with on social media. Seeing images or videos of drug use or drug paraphernalia can trigger relapse in teens recovering from drug addiction. Ads for weight loss supplements or food can be dangerous for teens recovering from food addiction, and a variety of games and apps can trigger a return of symptoms in teens recovering from gambling addiction.

“It’s really important to find sober kids that your teenager could hang out with. The number one influence, besides their parents, are their friends.”

Dr. Kevin Wandler, Chief Medical Officer, Advanced Recovery Systems

Teens should find healthy and meaningful hobbies to occupy their free time. If extracurricular activities at school, sports or other activities aren’t an option, teens might consider finding a job. However, it’s important that they make sure they work in a safe work environment — one that is free of drugs or other substances that can trigger relapse.

Recognizing Relapse

One of the goals of therapy is to help teens learn to recognize the precursors of relapse. That usually means recognizing certain feelings or actions that people typically experience before relapse.

  • Feeling frustrated, angry or sad.
  • Feeling defensive when people bring up recovery.
  • Deciding not to go to therapy appointments.
  • Deciding not to go to support group meetings.
  • Thinking one “slip” is OK.
  • Reconnecting with friends who use drugs.
  • Spending time in high-risk environments.
  • Reminiscing about the days of addiction.

Family and friends should learn to recognize the signs of addiction, too. In addition to the indicators above, signs that relapse has occurred could include smelling drugs, dramatic changes in behavior or appearance, problems at school or criminal behavior.

Family and friends can talk to their loved one if they notice the signs of relapse, and if they think the person is in danger of hurting themselves, they can call their health care provider. A doctor, therapist or counselor may not be able to discuss a teen’s behavior because of privacy laws, but they can listen.

Recovering from Relapse

Recovery from relapse varies from person to person. If a teen slips once, they may be able to continue recovery with the help of a support group, family and friends, or outpatient therapy. If relapse is severe, they may require a stay at a treatment facility.

Even if an individual requires supervised detox or an extended stay in rehab after relapse, it doesn’t mean they’re starting treatment from scratch. Teens can learn what caused the relapse in order to more effectively prevent it in the future, and they’ll be better prepared to handle high-risk situations the next time around.

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Avoiding Cross Addiction

Teenage daughter hiding cigarette from her mother

Cross addiction refers to replacing one type of addiction for another. Teens might replace a cocaine addiction by smoking cigarettes, or they might begin gambling to replace the thrill they experienced while doing drugs. Cross addiction is common among individuals in recovery, so teens should avoid trying new drugs or beginning other high-risk behaviors during recovery.

Going Back to School

School is important, but health comes first. Students suffering from addiction should focus on getting treatment first and foremost. Some treatment facilities provide tutors to help students during downtime, but treatment is the top priority.

Teens in recovery should make sure they’re ready for the busy schedule and stress that can accompany a school day. They should also make sure they’re prepared to handle a variety of social situations, scrutiny from friends and the unfortunate stigma that is associated with addiction.

Tips for returning to school include:

  • Take time to plan for re-enrollment.
  • Communicate with school counselors, social workers or other mental health staff.
  • Request a meeting with teachers and staff to give them background information.
  • Develop an emergency plan with school personnel.

Parents, siblings and friends should help prepare teens in recovery for the transition to school when they’re ready. In some situations, a new learning environment may be more appropriate for teens in recovery.

Going to a New School

Attending a new school may be a healthier option for some teens in recovery. The cost and the location of the school are big factors for parents to consider, but it might be worth it if the old school is in a high-risk area. It can be refreshing and helpful for teens to get a fresh start. Adjusting to a new school can be difficult though, so teens and their parents should weigh the pros and cons when making the decision.

Alternative School

Alternative schools designed for teens in recovery have been created across the U.S. The accredited schools teach the same curricula as other institutions in addition to providing group therapy and other recovery programs. Staff members at alternative schools are specifically trained for teens in recovery. Before starting, most schools require teens to maintain sobriety for 30 days and to sign a contract agreeing to abstain from drug use. They may also regularly test for drug use.

Home School

If attending a new school or an alternative school isn’t an option, parents may consider home school. Parents can learn to help their children prepare for a high school equivalency exam or a GED. Some teens may be able to learn with minimal assistance, and hiring a tutor might be an option for other students. Teens in home school should still make efforts to participate in activities outside of the home and to make new friends in order to avoid isolation.

Family Resources

Parents, siblings and other family members do not need to feel helpless if their loved one is suffering from addiction. They can encourage their teen to make healthy decisions, mandate that they attend treatment and support them in recovery.

Sometimes family members, including parents, suffer from a teen’s addiction. It’s important that individuals in the family take care of their own health, too. Family-focused support groups, such as Al-Anon are available in most communities in the U.S.

Tips for Parents to Help Teens During Recovery:

  • Encourage them to seek aftercare treatment.
  • Provide transportation to appointments.
  • Consider attending family therapy.
  • Communicate anti-drug messages.
  • Establish clear rules in the home.
  • Talk to a doctor about randomized drug tests.

Family members should ask their therapist about participating in family-based therapy. During other types of therapy, parents should give teens space to talk to therapists or counselors. Many teens may not be open or honest with health professionals in front of parents.

“The family has to be a part of the solution. The exception is, of course, if the parents are a part of the problem (e.g., supplying the child with drugs).”

Dr. Kevin Wandler, Chief Medical Officer, Advanced Recovery Systems

At home, parents should establish consequences for breaking rules and clearly communicate why the rules are in place. They should also reward teens for good behavior. Rewarding good behavior may be as important as punishing poor behavior.

It’s also important to understand that relapse happens. Teens may test boundaries with parents, and they are often prone to compulsive behavior. Remember, about one-third of teens relapse within the first three months after treatment. With patience and love, parents can help their children in recovery.

Medical Disclaimer: DrugRehab.com aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

Chris Elkins, MA
Senior Content Writer, DrugRehab.com
Chris Elkins worked as a journalist for three years and was published by multiple newspapers and online publications. Since 2015, he’s written about health-related topics, interviewed addiction experts and authored stories of recovery. Chris has a master’s degree in strategic communication and a graduate certificate in health communication.

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