When Your Teenager is in Recovery
8 ways to help your teen stay on the road to recovery
A friend of mine, who had just picked up her teenage daughter from a drug rehabilitation center, said, “I knew parenting a teenager was going to be tough, but with this whole addiction thing—I feel like I’m completely out of my depth.” This feeling, shared by many parents of teens with substance abuse problems, can be magnified when you are trying to parent a teenager in recovery as a Solo Mom. The good news is there are lots of ways you can help a recovering teen, along with yourself, in this situation. Here are some ways to get started.
- Seek guidance and support from an addiction specialist, if you are not already working with one. This person can provide important information about the services and supports your teenager is likely to need, potential resources for teen and family recovery in your area, and what to expect during different stages of recovery. For help finding an addiction specialist in your area, the the American Society of Addiction Medicine website has a Find the Physician feature.
- If you are coparenting with an ex, be on the same page whenever possible. This is beneficial in general, but especially so in trying to support and supervise a recovering teen, who may need environmental protections in both households such as locked storage for household medications, eliminating or closely monitoring the household alcohol supply, bedroom or backpack searches, and clear and consistent expectations about what your teen should and shouldn’t do when no adult is present in the household.
- Learn about substance abuse in general and teen substance abuse in particular. As with any other aspect of parenting, being armed with information specific to the problem your child is facing can be useful, not only for what you do, but also how you feel. Some good information resources online to begin with include the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institute of Drug Abuse, and the Office of Adolescent Health.
- Insist on your teen having a recovery support network. Ideally, this would include self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, which in many geographic areas have young people’s meetings. Other potential resources include SMART Recover, a cognitive therapy based self-help program that has a teen and youth program, and Marijuana Anonymous, which has online meetings and a pamphlet of stories by teens (the latter of which can be a helpful resource as use and acceptance medical marijuana is becoming increasingly widespread, and some people are asserting that marijuana abuse is not really a drug problem—a message that can be confusing to teens who have found marijuana use problematic or have been taught in treatment or recovery programs that nonmedical marijuana use constitutes relapse).
- Pay attention to your own needs, and seek help for yourself if necessary. Relational patterns that develop around addictive behaviors affect everyone, not just the person with addiction, and recovery can cause or contribute to changes in the entire family system, which can be disorienting and difficult for everyone concerned. You also may be struggling with anger at your teen or fear that he or she might relapse. An addiction counselor or therapist can help you determine the best type of support for you at this time (individual, family, or some combination). In addition, connecting with other parents of teens in recovery can be enormously helpful, as can participation is self-help groups for loved ones such as Al-Anon.
- Have a relapse prevention plan. This should be a written plan that includes warning signs and triggers for substance abuse, strategies and supports to help prevent future substance abuse, and what the teen and parent will do in the event that the teen starts abusing substances again. If your teen has been in a rehabilitation program, she or he has probably been discharged with one of these, though it may need updating as time passes. If your teen doesn’t have one, an addiction specialist can help you develop and utilize one.
- Be aware of your expectations of how your teenager will do in recovery, and how you may be showing or expressing those expectations to your teen. Nobody has a crystal ball, but kids will often follow our lead in terms of what we predict from them. Therefore, it is good to have and convey a certain amount of optimism and belief in your child’s ability to stay the course in recovery. You don’t want to convey that you expect your child to relapse; on the other hand, you don’t want to convey that you will be unable to handle it if your child does in fact relapse. Recovery is a lifelong process, and recovering teens need to know that you’ll hold them accountable and be there for them over the long haul.
- Help your teenager in recovery manage his or her emotions, relationships, and time. Substance abuse can arrest a teenager’s social and emotional development and numb or alter his or her moods, which can result in significant emotional and social challenges in early recovery. Also, boredom and stress are two common relapse triggers for teens, so it can be helpful to monitor your teen’s schedule and whether he or she is overwhelmed or too busy or lacking meaningful or enjoyable activities.
Image via Shutterstock.com
Susan Lemere, ESME’s Addiction Resource Guide, is a Solo Mom of two, as well as a therapist, a writer, and an artist coach.
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