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Relapse Prevention Plan for Teens

Destructive habits with drugs or alcohol don’t go away easily. While it's normal for teens to slip back into their addiction after rehab, relapse threatens their long-term recovery. Call us today to talk more about relapse prevention and what you can do to help your child recovery from addiction.


7 min read

What Is Relapse?

When an addict returns to substance abuse after a period of being clean, doctors refer to it as a “relapse.” Drug addiction relapse happens in 40–60% of cases — sometimes when the addict and their loved ones least expect it. This “addictive preoccupation” is something they’ll struggle with their whole life. It’s less likely in those who receive treatment and who stay active in support groups.

The highest probability of relapse is in the few months or years immediately following their rehab stint. But if your teen is diagnosed as an addict, it’s a possibility that never really goes away.

relapse rates after alcohol treatment

A recent example of the dangers of relapse is the death of Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. After being sober from heroin use for 20 years, Hoffman suffered a major relapse in 2014 and died shortly after.

The mind of someone battling an addiction to drugs or alcohol is a fragile, complicated thing. Even after decades of research, there’s no way to simply reverse the disease’s profound psychological effects or prevent relapse altogether. Any resolution takes complete dedication from the patient and the constant support of loved ones.

It’s important to remember that relapse doesn’t mean treatment has failed. In fact, addicts relapse often on their road to recovery. But relapse prevention is critical because any single relapse has the potential to be catastrophic. Approximately 60% of teens who relapse have long-term, high-consequence relapses.

depressed young adult with heroin addiction

Stages of Relapse

The thought process of a teen battling addiction is often unpredictable; relapse may strike suddenly and without warning. What can help is paying attention to the following three areas — damages to which can trigger relapse.


The social and emotional challenges of recovery are a tall order, even for the thickest-skinned individuals. These are only exacerbated in adolescence, which is already an emotional roller coaster for teens. Counseling is typically encouraged to assist struggling teens harness and stabilize their emotions. If you notice them dip into depression, display odd behaviors, or swing from one emotion to the next, see how you can help. Sometimes all it takes it a loving conversation.


Stress and anxiety are two big reasons that substance abuse begins in the first place. We all get overwhelmed from time to time, but for a teen on the mend from addiction, drugs or alcohol can seem like the logical solution for worrisome feelings like these. It’s a steep uphill battle trying to “fit in” and keep up with the rest of the world. If you notice your child’s burdens becoming too much to bare, work with them to alleviate the stress as best you can. Hold out for the truth — lying and false confidence are common precursors to relapse. Follow your intuition if you think they’re facing hard times.


At a certain point, the body will respond to the mental and emotional stages of relapse. Malnutrition (i.e. eating poorly, too much or not enough), trouble sleeping, sickness and other physical symptoms should tell you that your teen is in bad shape. A physical decline may be a sign that a relapse may not be far behind — or it may have already happened. It’s only a matter of time until their mind wanders to drugs or alcohol as a solution.

drug relapse teen looking out over cliff

Relapse Prevention Coping Skills

Besides looking for signs, what else can you do? As a parent, you have the ability to practice relapse prevention strategies with your son or daughter. These coping skills are among the most effective strategies for preventing relapse.

Overall, keeping their minds and bodies stimulated (without illicit substances, of course) is the best way to help them cope, and reshape the way they perceive themselves and their relationship with substances. Meetings with a therapist, school counselor or substance abuse counselor can help your teen develop coping skills of their own — the more confident they feel about confronting their triggers, the less chance of a relapse interrupting their life.

Relapse Prevention Worksheet

This customizable relapse prevention plan can help your child deal with triggers, temptations, and other challenges associated with sobriety.

What Are Relapse Triggers

“Relapse triggers” are events or interactions that can spell danger for the recovery process. These triggers vary from person to person. Relapse prevention coping skills are behaviors and attitudes that help recovering teens deal with or avoid these stressful, potentially disastrous scenarios.

Relapse triggers may include a certain friend, a place (e.g. a party or person’s house where they often drank or used the drug), an old relationship or a specific feeling brought up by everyday life. These can include:

  • Frustration
  • Exhaustion
  • Boredom
  • Impatience
  • Pressure
  • Self-pity
  • Cockiness
  • Argumentativeness

Common ways to cope with relapse triggers include exercising, being creative, learning, interacting socially, meditating, and simply going outside to observe the world. The longer a recovering teen sits and lets their mind wander, the more susceptible they are to relapse triggers and the deluge of unhealthy consequences these may bring about.

What Are Withdrawal Triggers?

Withdrawal is the body’s physical and psychological reaction to discontinuing the use of drugs or alcohol. Continued use of an illicit substance essentially rewires the person’s brain so it forgets how to function without the effects of the drug. When a person stops using, the brain begins returning to its normal state. This process (withdrawal syndrome) can cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, trembling, anxiety and depression. Sometimes these symptoms are so severe, it triggers the person to want to get high again rather than face the withdrawal.

Drug withdrawal typically comes in two stages. First, a person will exhibit post-acute withdrawal symptoms, which are mostly physical. This stage can last a few days or a few weeks, depending on the drug used and the level of dependence on it. The second stage, Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, can last roughly two years and begins when physical symptoms diminish and psychological symptoms begin to take hold. These symptoms change regularly, but will be less frequent over time.

It’s important your child learns to cope with these symptoms so the onset of withdrawal does not trigger them to return to drug use. Being patient, accepting the withdrawal and making sure your teen is staying healthy are all key coping strategies. The withdrawal process can last several years and may be intermittent — knowing and accepting this fact and investing in self-care on those bad days will make all the difference.

It may not be pleasant to watch your child go through withdrawal, but it’s important for both of you to understand the pain they’re feeling now is a sign of a healing brain.

Talk to your kids about drugs and addiction

Does My Teenager Need Rehab for Addiction?

If your child achieved temporary recovery, but has fallen back into their substance abuse problem, you may feel hopeless. Let us at offer you a word of wisdom, based on our years of experience: addiction is strong, but families are stronger. You can make it through this, with the right help. It may be time to try a different method of help, but never, ever give up. And now is the time to get started.

If your child previously got well after undergoing detox or outpatient therapy, a stint at inpatient drug rehab may help. Make sure you choose a facility that specializes in adolescent addiction and offers excellent aftercare options.

It can be daunting to choose a facility, especially if you have been through this process before. We at exist to help you with this very junction. Whether you need a list of specialty treatment centers that focus on teen addiction or just want to talk, we’re here for you. Don’t wait to take steps to bring your teen back to health — call to speak with one of our treatment advisors today.


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