Tips for Dealing with Teen Relapse


Addiction is a lifelong struggle and teenagers, who faced a substance addiction early in life, have a long road ahead of them to fight for sobriety. After completing drug or alcohol treatment, teens are still at risk for relapsing for many years afterward. In fact, 40% to 60% of people relapse after treatment, including teens. But there is hope.

What is a Relapse?

A relapse is when an individual in recovery returns to using drugs or alcohol, often with the same frequency as before they entered treatment. A slip is when a teenager uses a drug or drinks alcohol on one occasion. This is actually quite common in recovery but it’s still important and dangerous. Slips can lead to a full blown relapse, so they must be dealt with accordingly. Often those recovering from addiction falsely believe they have their addiction under control and one drink or getting high once won’t hurt. So what are some ways to deal with a teen in relapse?

Keeping Emotions in Check

It can be difficult for parents to see their teen return to using drugs or alcohol. Especially after all the hard work that went into recovery. So before the parents talk to their teen, they should speak with someone to get their own emotions in check. Only then will the parents be in the right frame of mind to listen to and help their teen.

Talking to the Teen

The problem needs to be acknowledged, even if it’s just one drink. Begin with questions like, “Can you tell me what’s going on? I know you had a drink last night” or “What’s leading you to go down that path again?” If the teen refuses to answer, make it clear that it’s unacceptable. Explain that slips and relapses are common but contain the full weight of addiction. No one recovering from addiction, whether they’ve stayed clean for 20 months or 20 years, can handle going back to occasional drinking or drug use.There may be a combination of events or feelings that contributed to the relapse, or maybe it was an isolated incident, like a relationship breakup. Does the teen need help dealing with emotions like anger and frustration so they won’t revert to self-medicating? Could they be struggling with rejection or communication skills?

Seeking Help

Parents should talk to their teen’s counselor or doctor and decide if they need to go back to in-patient therapy or outpatient counseling. Long-term treatment helps to greatly reduce relapses. If the teen is not part of a support group, then the parent should encourage it.  

Stay Supportive

Teens need some structure, and being overly scheduled can cause anxiety and lead to a relapse. A calm, relaxed-paced environment is more effective. The parent should stress to the teen that recovery is a long term process, and that they are there for support.


LEAD Recovery Center strives to help young adults and women transition into their new lives of recovery through a multiphase program of transition. Founded in leadership and mentorship, each of our clients transforms into a leader in their lives and the lives of others. Call us today for more information on our programs at 1-800-380-0012.