Addiction Recovery for Families: How to Help Teens Stay Sober

Staying sober isn’t easy for teens. Learn how to support your addicted child in ongoing recovery.

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ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Relapse is common for teens. Learn how you can support ongoing recovery for your child in this article. Practical ideas followed by a section for your questions.


Participating in Your Teen’s Recovery: Things You Can Do to Promote Sobriety

Your child has made the decision to become and remain sober. Even after spending time in a rehabilitation facility and developing a new set of coping skills, the potential for a relapse is there.

A study conducted by the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Abuse Institute found that up to 71% of teenagers who successfully completed a substance abuse program relapsed anywhere between 90 days and six months. 

Where does that leave you? Is there anything that you can do to improve the odds of your teen remaining sober? While the final choice is always in the hands of the teen, there is quite a bit you can do to support that sobriety. Here are some approaches you can begin today.

Make the Home a Temptation-Free Zone

Coming home after being in a rehab center or some type of transitional housing should be as comfortable and pleasant as possible. To the best of your ability, scour the home and replace anything that might be a temptation for your teen. That means if the addiction has to do with alcohol, get rid of the beverages, mixes, and even household products like mouthwash that contain alcohol. The goal is to ensure that during those first few months, nothing is on hand that could be grabbed on the spur of the moment.

Remember that the adult members of the household don’t have to do without alcohol for the rest of their lives. Wine with dinner out or having a beer while at a sporting event is still an option. As the teen acclimates to life at home and feels more secure with his or her new coping skills, it may be possible to alcohol in the house eventually. For now, the focus is on making sure home is as much of a safe place as possible.

Be Aware of and Effectively Manage Triggers Within the Home

The urge to turn to substances often occurs when certain events take place. Now is the time to identify what triggers are found in the home and do something about them. Perhaps shouting is a trigger. If so, other members of the household will need to learn how to face and resolve conflict without raising their voices.

The same is true if verbal abuse is present and generally thought of as kidding. Name-calling, putting others down, and in general making remarks that serve no useful purpose will have to go. Positive communication must replace those older habits and encourage everyone in the family to express their opinions and feelings in ways that do not tear down others.

Family Activities Matter

During the time in rehab, your teen was exposed to a number of outdoor and indoor activities. They may include things like going on walks, jogging, working out with weights, or practicing yoga. There’s no reason that everyone in the household can’t participate in similar activities now.

If that means joining a local fitness center and working out a few times a week, so be it. The activity will be good for your teen on multiple levels. Along with the personal physical and emotional benefits, the fact that other family members are engaged in similar activities provides one more commonality that helps to strengthen family ties.

Remember that the activities can also be more passive. The key is doing things together. That means having time to go to a movie, attending a sporting event, or enjoy a Saturday afternoon picnic together is a good idea. Even streaming a movie at home and ordering pizza provides the chance to be together and feel more a part of each other’s lives.

Investigate Local Support Groups and Other Options for Aftercare in Advance

Anyone who has lived with alcoholism for years knows the value of a support group. There are 12-step programs designed especially for teens. They function much like programs designed for adults. There are sponsors for each participant, meetings scheduled regularly, and even the option of having an impromptu meeting with a small group of others facing the same type of challenges.

The support group offers your teen a place to call his or her own. Don’t feel left out if little to nothing is shared about what takes place in the meetings. Confidentiality is one of the aspects that makes those meetings safe places to share frustrations, victories, and even fears about the future.

Remember that there are other forms of aftercare that can help. Ongoing therapy is also an option if your teen is receptive to it. For now, your goal is to identify local options and learn enough about them to discuss each one with your teen.

Attending a Support Group for Loved Ones is a Good Idea, Too

Your teen is not the only one who should seek out a support group. There are groups for loved ones of teen addicts. Choosing to join one of them allows you to get to know other people who have loved ones in recovery and who are working to maintain sobriety. They provide a place to learn from one another, offer emotional support when things get rough, and may serve as inspiration for something you can do that had not come to mind before.

Develop a One Day at a Time Mentality

Living with any type of addiction means taking things one day at a time. It’s not a matter of, “I’m never going to drink again.” Rather, it’s, “I’m not going to drink today.” Even as your teen sets this goal, you should also set a daily goal of being supportive for the next 24 hours. You’d be surprised how this one decision will improve the odds of everyone successfully making it through the day without a negative incident.

Realize That One Fumble Does Not Mean the Game is Over

Realize that in spite of your teen’s efforts and your support, there is always the possibility of a relapse. Should that happen, the last thing you need to do is assume all is lost. It’s not. The event can be a learning experience for everyone and lead to a renewed commitment to remain in control of the addiction.

While not overreacting matters, don’t trivialize the situation either. Remain calm but do not make excuses. Talk through what has happened and ensure everyone is aware of the gravity of the event. Identify what factors led to the slip and talk about how to avoid them in the future. Remember that some changes on your part as well as your teen may be necessary to minimize the possibility of another slip.

You and your teen are stronger than either of you realize. Together, it’s possible to commit to sobriety and manage the addiction from one day to the next. Be quick to praise, but keep it real. Acknowledge when something doesn’t go well and come up with a plan to make things better. Doing so improves the odds of your teen being among those who remain sober and are able to reclaim their lives and goals.

Your Questions

Now, it’s your turn.

Do you have any questions about supporting a kid in addiction recovery? How about experiences to share? We invite all your comments in the section below. In fact, we try to respond to all real life comments with a personal reply. So, please let us know how we can help!

About the author
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY17766), a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist and a Certified Youth Residential Treatment Administrator. Dr. Nalin is the Founder and Clinical Director of Paradigm Malibu and Paradigm San Francisco Adolescent Treatment Centers. He has been responsible for the direct care of young people at multiple institutions of learning including; The Los Angeles Unified School District, the University of California at San Diego, Santa Monica College, and Pacific University. He was instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
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