Triggers for Teenage Drug Relapse

Drug addiction is a chronic disease.  Although the success rate for addiction treatment for teens is good, they are no different from adults when it comes to relapse.  According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 40 and 60 percent of people who have been addicted to drugs will suffer a relapse at some time following treatment.  This does not mean that recovery has failed, but instead indicates a need for follow-up treatment.

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Teenagers are especially vulnerable for relapse because their brains are still developing. Knowing some of the most common triggers and warning signs can help parents and families take action before relapse occurs.

These are some of the most common relapse triggers for teens:

  • Boredom.  Many teens being abuse drugs because they are bored.  After completing treatment, they should be encouraged to avoid boredom by becoming more involved with hobbies, sports, youth organizations and school activities.  Parents can support their recovering teen by planning more family activities.
  • Old Associations.  Teens who are in recovery must avoid friends and social situations that were once associated with drug abuse.  The temptation to return to old behaviors is too great, especially when drug-using friends want to turn back the clock.
  • Loneliness.  Breaking with high-risk friends can leave a teen feeling socially isolated.  Follow-up therapy or counseling should be provided to help teens make the difficult transition from treatment to sobriety.  This transition will go more smoothly with a good support system in place.
  • Anxiety.  Recovering teens who used drugs to self-medicate for anxiety and stress may be tempted to begin using again if their symptoms return.  The best treatment programs will provide therapy for co-occurring disorders like anxiety and will help the teen develop coping skills.  However, adolescence is a stressful time of life and family members should be on the lookout for teens who are becoming overwhelmed by anxiety.
  • False Confidence.  After a teen is sober for a period of time, a feeling of false confidence can set it.  Some teens feel they have overcome addiction and can safely begin to use drugs again.  Teens who take their recovery for granted are at greatest risk for developing false confidence.
  • Drug or alcohol use in the home.  Parents should not keep or use drugs or in the home when there is a recovering teen in the family.  Prescription and over-the-counter medications should be kept in a secure location that the teen can’t access.

Family members who participate in family therapy or self-help groups will gain a better understanding of recovery and relapse.  If there seems to be a threat of relapse or if relapse occurs, the teen should get back into a treatment facility as soon as possible.  Family members should avoid either blaming the teen or making excuses for their behavior.  Relapse should be treated the same as relapse for other chronic diseases such as diabetes or hypertension.