Teen addiction to alcohol and other substances can happen to anyone. Whether teens are influenced by their parents, peers, the media or popular culture, they may be faced with difficult barriers in their addiction recovery. Youth in recovery may experience different stressors that can affect their performance at school, work and even their relationships with loved ones. Understanding why teens who struggle with addiction relapse is important in order to develop effective strategies to combat emotional, mental, lifestyle and social barriers that are often encountered during the recovery process.
The teenage years are known for being turbulent and difficult. Emotional development in the teenage years can easily be stifled or slowed if a teen encounters painful experiences. Further, experiencing teen addiction during the teenage years can magnify emotional difficulties. It is critical that teens develop coping skills when in recovery, especially those targeted toward emotional barriers. Depression in the teenage years is not uncommon and often co-occurs with teen addiction. Some examples of emotional barriers during recovery may include:
- Drugs or alcohol help teens feel more relaxed
- Drugs may give teens a sense of control over their life
- Drugs help teens cope or hide from their negative emotions (e.g. depression)
- Drugs can give teens an alternate sense of reality
- Teens may not want to conquer or face fears about their future
- Using drugs feels better than their sober life
- Using drugs changes how a teen thinks about life
Life Stress Barriers
Many teens face stress and pressure in their everyday lives. Beyond teenagers being stressed about school, there are other life stressors that teens encounter on a regular basis. Importantly, for teens struggling with addiction, life stressors like having no money or having problems at home can make teens want to escape their own lives.
In the United States, there is an extremely negative stigma about addiction and mental health issues in general, though this is slowly improving. Added to the difficulties of recovery, life stressors can make recovery seem even more out of reach for teens. Sometimes teens use drugs in order to deal with life stressors. Therefore, knowing what teens can and cannot control in their life can help them on their journey to recovery. Major life stressors in teenage life can include:
- Criticism from parents, siblings or friends
- School-related issues (failing classes, getting in trouble, losing a sports scholarship, etc.)
- Issues with making or keeping friends (trying to fit in, even with bad crowds)
- Financial issues (getting into debt, not being able to pay bills on time)
- Job-related issues (getting fired, problems finding or staying at a job)
- Housing issues (having to contribute to rent or a mortgage)
When it comes to addiction recovery, many teens do not typically seek treatment without the urging of their parents or loved ones. Drug cravings can happen if teens and their families do not make changes to alleviate emotional and life stressors. Teens can easily fall into the same patterns of boredom, unease or feeling a lack of control over their lives.
A lack of motivation in teens may result if teens are depressed or even if they have not found something to be passionate about (e.g. travel, a hobby, a sport, etc.). Further, low self-esteem in teens may lead to or exacerbate current drug use. Confidence can affect teen addiction in two different ways. If a teen has low confidence, they may have more difficulty stopping a drug. Conversely, if a teen has extremely high confidence, they may think they are invincible and that their drug use does not negatively affect them. Some examples of mental barriers to teen recovery can include:
- Denying addiction or being unwilling to change
- Not pursuing recovery on their own accord
- Being unwilling or unable to listen to the negatives of drug use
- Being around the same friends or family members that use drugs
- Having low (or too-high) confidence about drug use
- Not wanting to disrupt or upend their lives
- Not wanting to take on the responsibilities of life
Social barriers to recovery may be some of the most difficult barriers to break through for teenagers. The influence of peer pressure on teenagers is extremely strong. Teens want to fit in with their peers and often times one way in which to bond is to use alcohol or drugs together. Although many teens feel that real “bonding” is occurring during a party or similar situation, this can be superficial.
In many cases, teens fear being socially isolated from their peers and will participate in activities that go against their core values in order to fit in. The effects of social isolation on teenagers can be detrimental to a teen’s well-being and their ability to recover. Teens in recovery must learn effective ways to circumvent peer pressure if it in any way hinders their progress. Examples of social barriers in teenage recovery can include:
- Having friends that are a negative influence
- Maintaining unhealthy friendships
- Refusing to change social circles
- Fear of abandonment or being chastised for not going with the crowd
- Thinking that drug and alcohol use as portrayed in the media is glamorous
- Maintaining social norms
What are environmental barriers to teen recovery? In essence, where are teens getting drugs? Are teens obtaining drugs in school, their neighborhood or from older siblings? Importantly, are drugs easily accessible to teens? Easy access to drugs is an example of an environmental barrier to recovery. If a teen in recovery can easily obtain drugs from their siblings or best friends, this is a particularly challenging and tempting prospect.
In some ways, environmental barriers cannot be controlled for. A teen cannot necessarily control what neighborhood they live in. What they can control is who they associate with and for what reasons they associate with them. Finding a constructive hobby or finding a job where a teen’s recovery will not be compromised can be valuable in this difficult time.
Preventing Relapse in Recovery
Understanding potential barriers and triggers in teenage recovery can help individuals prevent relapse. What are additional ways in which family can support addiction recovery? Teen relapse prevention can involve helping teens be internally motivated to stop using drugs and to stay in recovery. Because addiction often co-occurs with other mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, receiving dual diagnosis treatment can help treat both conditions at once.
It is important to note that recovery is an ongoing process but is not a “cure” for addiction. Thus, the way in which facilities teach and coach individuals about their addiction must reflect the latest science and advancements in the field.
Does your teen struggle with addiction to alcohol or other substances? Are you concerned about the different barriers to their recovery? Contact the Next Generation Village to discuss treatment options for specifically teen addiction. Representatives are available to discuss the different rehabilitation programs offered and can answer any questions you may have about treatment and the recovery process.Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.