The recovery journey from drug addiction can be fraught with difficulties. While learning to become sober from alcohol and other drugs is essential, it is not the only vital part of recovery. Because addiction involves a complex web of emotions, drug cravings, and other mental health issues, the struggle to get and stay sober involves more than simply saying “no.” It requires a complete lifestyle change, which involves creating more positive mindsets and developing healthier habits.
Teenagers and adults alike face many of the same setbacks during their journey to recovery. Because no one is perfect, it’s completely normal to make one big step forward and several little steps backward before achieving long-term sobriety. Your teen may feel discouraged if they are not able to avoid substance use temptations during their first few weeks of recovery. Remind them that it will take time, but as long as they are committed to recovery, they must continue to make the courageous decision to try again.
It is essential to acknowledge some common setbacks that your teen may experience during their recovery journey.
Alcohol and drugs can be used as coping mechanisms for many people. Without those methods of “escape,” your teen may experience difficulty with facing painful emotions they had previously tried to avoid. A roller coaster of emotions is normal and expected of the teenage experience, but substance use can exacerbate them more than usual. If your teen is part of a recovery program or seeing a therapist, they must learn healthy coping mechanisms for navigating stress, so they do not relapse back to substance use.
When healing from addiction, it’s normal to have cravings for drugs or alcohol — even when your teen knows that these substances are harmful. Fortunately, there are many different approaches your teen can take to manage these cravings. These approaches may involve mindfulness practices, such as meditation, or behavioral strategies, such as taking a walk or engaging in other activities to act as a distraction. Treatment will also provide valuable ways to manage cravings.
If your teen was introduced or exposed to substance use through their peer group, a necessary part of their recovery will involve cutting off contact with them. This could be temporary or permanent, depending on the situation. Regardless, this separation will undoubtedly cause your teen to feel isolated and lonely. They may even be angry at you for initiating the separation in the first place. Your teen may also need to repair relationships if they had caused anyone hurt while they actively used substances.
Unfortunately, it may not be possible to repair all these damaged relationships. Accepting and coping with loss is yet another part of recovery. But with time and therapy, your teen can learn how to form genuine apologies, which can be a good start for repairing relationships. Social support, in the form of a mentor or group therapy, can help your teen navigate some of their losses healthily.
Abstaining from drugs could introduce a lull in your teen’s life at first. They may not be sure what to do with the time that was spent using with their friends. Boredom can increase your teen's risk of relapse. Since drugs can elicit feelings of excitement, everything else can be dulled, by comparison, even the hobbies your teen used to enjoy. This is another setback that is best dealt with in therapy or recovery groups, as it will require your teen to engage in hobbies and other lifestyle activities. Be patient with your teen as their brain and body adjusts to living soberly.
If your teen was previously diagnosed with a mental health disorder, the symptoms of that disorder may be worsened after prolonged substance use. The majority of people who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction have co-occurring mental disorders, such as depression or anxiety. For effective recovery, it’s essential to find a treatment facility that can treat both conditions simultaneously. With time and treatment, your teen will find that sobriety does improve their mental health.
If your teen spent a significant amount of time at a residential treatment facility, transitioning back home can be a challenge. Your teen may not feel like they “fit” within their previous role in the family and household. The home may also be a potential trigger, especially if it’s a place where they used substances before. Talk to your teen’s healthcare providers about the next steps you can take to encourage treatment engagement and create a more stable home environment. Your teen will likely benefit from continued care, specifically an outpatient program.
Finally, it’s important to acknowledge the most obvious setback to recovery: relapse. As a parent, this can be particularly heartbreaking after you have invested much of your time and energy into your teen’s treatment. However, relapses do happen, and they are not a sign of failure. It’s normal for people to require several attempts before achieving long-term sobriety. It may be a sign for your teen to try a different or more intensive treatment program.
Recovery is a lifelong journey. Having a treatment plan is vital for long-term recovery success. Even then, setbacks are to be expected, including the potential for relapse. Setbacks can be devastating, however, with continuing treatment, setbacks can be managed efficiently and effectively. Clearfork Academy is an outdoor adventure treatment program for teens struggling with substance use. We offer a variety of treatment programs for adolescents aged 13-17, including inpatient and outpatient services, detox, and summer programs. Our approach is spiritually-based, with compassionate and licensed staff to mentor and guide teenagers from destructive habits to making healthier choices. We are proud to say that our programs have helped many teens conquer their addiction and go on to live healthy, fulfilling lives without drugs or alcohol. To learn more about our treatment programs, please reach out to us today at (817) 259-2597.