Rehab’s a challenge for anyone to complete, but it’s even tougher for teens. Rehab is a major life change, upending schedules and comfortable routines – which is good, because in many cases those schedules and routines revolved around substance abuse. Rehab is also a time of deliberate activities, requiring patients to spend time away from friends and familiar surroundings in order for the disease of addiction to be treated.
Addiction is a challenging, chronic disease and as with other chronic diseases like diabetes, relapses happen. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates the relapse rate for substance abuse is between 40 to 60 percent. Anyone who’s ever made an attempt to get clean has dealt with the possibility of relapse, and it’s a battle fought throughout life. Finding a safe place to help your teen rebound after recovery can seem like a daunting task but it’s possible with communication and observation.
Relapse, or slip?
It’s important to remember not every instance of drug use after treatment qualifies as a relapse. A one-time use of a specific drug is called a slip. According to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, slips are much more common than relapses.
Relapse, the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids says, refers to an episode of substance abuse and recurrence of behaviors seen before rehab. For example, a slip is a sip of alcohol, a relapse would be finding Johnny hidden in his room completely drunk, having drank for an extended period of time and now lying about it, like he used to do. Although frustrating, slips and relapses do not mean the end of the recovery process. Slips can become relapses if unchecked, however.
Talk with, listen to and learn
Attention and communication are both necessary to safeguard against these setbacks. Parents have to stay aware of both their child’s activities and the people they have relationships with – including online relationships. The Partnership recommends parents encourage their children to engage in new activities. Not only are activities distracting from drug-cravings and activities, engaging in healthy, rewarding behavior will teach them they can live a fulfilling, interesting life without substances.
Helping teens out of treatment to meet new people is also critically important. Rehab ideally changes habits and behaviors, and it can be devastating for a teen to lose their friends, even though they might have been a source of the teen’s problems. New, sober friends can be met via new activities and through support groups like teen-oriented 12-step programs.
Also, keeping a close eye on a teen’s emotional health is strongly important, too. Teens experience tremendous emotional sensitivity, and often engage in impulsive behavior and testing boundaries. Much of this is due to basic science – the human brain matures during the teen years and doesn’t finish the maturation process until the mid-20s.
Moreover, the areas of the brain which govern decision-making and judgement are among the last to develop. Watching their moods and keeping an eye out for stressful situations can allow caretakers to head off potential opportunities for relapse.
Writing for the Partnership’s website, Yale psychologist Michael Pantalon, Ph.D, suggests a surprising strategy to deal with relapses. “In fact, the scientific literature more clearly states that the manner in which the affected person, as well as significant others around him, handles the relapse is much more predictive of how things will go in the future,” writes Pantalon.
Rehab doesn’t merely involve the patient; it involves everyone around them. Working together makes the chances of a complete recovery much more likely.
Relapse doesn’t mean the end; substance abuse is a difficult disease to treat and occasional setbacks are part of the process. Sovereign Health’s Rancho San Diego facility specializes in personalized, effective treatment for teenagers aged 12 to 17. Our residential program treats mental, behavioral and substance abuse disorders with proven, effective therapies and techniques. Please call our 24/7 helpline for more details.
Written by Brian Moore, Sovereign Health Group writer