Families who are not familiar with addiction recovery may be surprised to learn that you cannot just send your child to a facility for a period of time, and then they come back completely healed. Approximately half of all people who receive treatment for addiction will relapse within the first year. Staying in recovery is very hard, and your teen is going to need the support of the entire family. How can you help your teen prevent a relapse?
Educate the Family About Relapse Prevention
The first step that you and your family should make is to educate yourselves about relapse prevention. What is a trigger? What is a craving? What are some common reasons that people relapse? What are some things that you can do specifically to help prevent your teen from relapsing?
A trigger is a person, place, event, memory, or something that triggers them to want to use substances again. A craving is a physiological event in the brain that creates a powerful urge to use a substance. Some of the common reasons that people relapse include not doing their daily self-care routines or having an intense emotional experience, such as a fight or breakup.
Supporting Proactive Relapse Prevention
As a family, you can support proactive steps to prevent a drug or alcohol relapse. An important strategy is to help your teen avoid triggers. Keeping them busy doing active things such as offering to exercise with them will help reduce cravings and fill in time they might be tempted to think about using. You can also support them in activities like eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, and drinking plenty of water. Being actively involved in their recovery is a great way to support your teen and prevent relapse.
Watching for Signs of Emotional Relapse
Most people emotionally relapse prior to a physical relapse. They might return to old habits or stop being proactive about their recovery, but they have not yet returned to substance use. These signs are important to be aware of because you can catch the behavioral changes before a physical relapse. Ways your adolescent could emotionally relapse include:
- Dwelling on memories associated with prior substance use
- Engaging with people or places from that time
- Forgetting to exercise
- Not sleeping well
- Not going to support meetings
- Withdrawing from family or friends
- Stopping medications or other prescribed treatments
- Obvious changes in mood or habits
Learning Relapse Prevention and Coping Skills
One of the most powerful skills you can give to your child is helping them to identify when a craving is happening and be able to communicate that to you.
- Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired (HALT) – many cravings happen when people are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Taking care to avoid these situations is ideal, but it is also important to identify and remedy the situation when a craving comes along.
- Urge Surfing – based on the idea that a craving always has a beginning, a crest or peak, and then an end, closing eyes and “riding” the urge in the mind like a wave can help get through it without giving in.
- Mindfulness – mindfulness is training the mind to simply notice what is happening in the moment without judgment. This allows your child to endure without reacting or acting upon a craving.
- Breathing Techniques – breathing brings more oxygen to the brain and body, and focusing on breathing takes the focus from the craving.
- Distraction – using a physical distraction such as doing jumping jacks or using an ice-cold washcloth or other distraction until the craving is gone.
- Five senses grounding – counting backward using the five senses to identify things around you: five things you see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, one thing you can taste.
- Play the tape through – when thinking about using a substance, play through everything that will happen if you do, then about the consequences of using/not using.
Making a Plan and Communicating
Communication as a family is essential to supporting relapse prevention. How will your teen help you know they are having a craving? Is there a plan to deal with cravings as they come up? What are the techniques that work best for your child? You may want to make a list and post it on the refrigerator or somewhere so that family members can refer to it.
Preventing a relapse is being proactive in supporting your adolescent’s daily recovery, as well as learning how to help them avoid triggers. Being able to help them through it when a craving hits is also part of relapse prevention. When you and your family are attentive, supportive, and can communicate well, you can work as a team to prevent relapse.
You and your family can be an integral part of your teen’s support system in preventing an addiction relapse. By learning about the signs to watch for, the coping mechanisms to help them in difficult moments, as well as offering daily support for recovery, your family can help your child continue a successful recovery. At Sustain Recovery, we teach teens how to find the underlying problems that are causing their substance abuse. Our extended residential program treats teens with substance abuse and also those with co-occurring mental health diagnoses. We are located in Irvine, California, and offer a program that teaches structure and accountability. We create opportunities for our clients to connect with people who can support them in their communities when they leave our program because we care about their recovery beyond their time with us. Call us at (949) 407-9052 to find out if our program is right for your child.