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12-11 Teen triggers around the holidays: How teen stress can lead to relapse during the holiday season

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Teen triggers around the holidays: How teen stress can lead to relapse during the holiday season

There is a wide array of stimuli that can negatively affect an adolescent’s mental state at the end of the year. Especially for those recovering from substance abuse or addiction, these detrimental ingredients can boil up during the winter months and eventually erupt at times of celebration. To ensure a happy holiday and reduce the potential threat of relapse, families need to learn more about what stressors trigger their teen and utilize the most supported strategies for maintaining sobriety.

Social, situational and environmental pitfalls

There are certain triggering situations or circumstances that can especially influence youth in recovery. First of all, they may feel the need to self-medicate due to overwhelming stress related to gift-giving and interacting with an influx of visiting relatives. The lack of a healthy social structure can also be dangerous, as isolation plays a role in increasing the vulnerability to addiction in mice, as supported in Psychologist Bruce K. Alexander’s classic study, “The effect of housing and gender on morphine self-administration in rats.”

Other aspects of an adolescent’s setting can also tempt him or her to start abusing drugs or alcohol again. In the scientific observation, “Individual and social/environmental predictors of alcohol and drug use 2 years following substance abuse treatment,” social and environmental factors were one of the major contributors to relapse. In addition to individual and background characteristics, researchers at the University of Michigan and Wayne State University found that exposure, negative social influences and the involvement in substance-related leisure activities were all toxic to a teen’s sober living.

A holiday relapse prevention plan for teens

In order to protect adolescents from episodes of relapse, families need to have strategies they can trust. Jill Backfield, Ph.D., the executive director at the New York Center for Living listed actions both teens and their parents can employ during the winter months, including:

  • Instead of adhering to activities that feature drinking, pave new traditions such as cooking, volunteering or playing games together.
  • Invite members of an adolescent’s recovery group or other sober friends to help the child feel more supported.
  • Schedule therapy time with a counselor before and after the holiday season to mentally prepare for stressors and assess one’s progress in recovery.
  • Openly plan ways to escape from potential triggers if they do arise.
  • Most of all, parents can set a strong example by demonstrating model behavior for younger generations to follow. According to a 2009 survey from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, 90 percent of teens view their parents as role models regarding alcohol or drug use. Family gatherings are an ideal stage where parents and other authority figures can display a sense of self-control and responsibility.

The end of the year is a time to share gifts, gratitude and good will with others. For recovering youth, one of the most meaningful presents they can receive is the ongoing opportunity to maintain their health through sobriety. This goal can be a great challenge for many households. If you or someone you love is struggling with temptations or showing warning signs of an impending relapse, contact Sovereign Health this season for support.

Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer

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