Preventing Relapses After A Troubled Teen Program for Substance Abuse

Successfully completing a troubled teen program is not the end of the journey towards recovery and maturity. A teen who has worked so hard to fight off the demons that hound him may be easy prey during a moment of weakness. When there is addiction involved, the probability of going back to previous bad habits is all too high.

As parents, we need to be on the alert to ensure that our teen has the necessary support and safeguards to minimize the chances of relapse. Here are some things to consider:

– Be aware of relapse triggers. Be on the lookout for things that can trigger a relapse. This includes:

o Easy access to drugs or being in social situations where drugs can be had. The times of early recovery are not times to challenge your teen’s willpower. This means avoiding his “posse” – his friends who are still into drugs. Being around them will heighten your teen’s vulnerability to peer pressure, the temptation to “get just one hit” and soon he will be into a deeper downward spiral. You can also help your teen get rid of paraphernalia and other drug-related items, as well as guide him towards avoiding situations where drugs are around. A recovering teen should be kept away from other addictive substances such as alcohol and painkillers. Thus, keep medicines and alcohol under lock and key.

o Being secluded from a social support system. Although a recovering teen should avoid friends who use drugs, this does not mean that he should be socially isolated altogether. He will need a support system so that he knows and understands that there are others like him who are also fighting similar battles. Feeling alone in this kind of battle can be devastating to one’s willpower and commitment.

o Being exposed to stress, depression and physical pain. During the period right after recovery, it is crucial for a teen to learn that drugs are no longer an option for escaping stress, depression and pain. These will tend to trigger cravings to use his previous substance of choice or for him to try something new. This does not mean that parents will work to shield the teen from stress, depression or pain. However, during this period, parents can work to establish a routine and if necessary, medical intervention as an initial safeguard.

o Complacency or over-confidence. A teen should not feel too confident or complacent about the early success of his recovery. He should be reminded to regularly monitor his cravings and emotions so as not to give cravings for drugs a foothold in his mind and emotions.

– Have an action plan against triggers. A good troubled teen recovery program will provide your teen with coping strategies against triggers but parents should also have an action plan as a second safety net. Work to provide structure to a teen’s day. This includes physical activities, hobbies they are interested in, activities in school and participation in social clubs. Even as you work to establish a routine, avoid overbooking his schedule or this may also stress your teen out.

– Avoid enabling your teen. Provide tough love when necessary. This means that you will not cover for your teen or make excuses about his behavior.

– Provide constructive feedback. A pat in the back, a positive word and simple but tangible rewards can do a lot to encourage your teen to focus on daily milestones.

– Provide a stable family environment. Once your teen comes back from a program such as a teen wilderness camp, he should come back with a family environment that is conducive to his recovery. You can prepare for your teen’s return by strengthening your communication skills, being more aware about setting and respecting boundaries and setting ground rules. Both parents must also present a united front when a teen starts to test his boundaries at home.

– Stay supportive when a relapse does occur. A relapse is disheartening, but is not necessarily the end of the story. Now is the time for your to reassure your child that the relapse can serve as a learning opportunity – where you can draw lessons from what happened so that these will not be repeated.

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