Unique Issues Teenagers Face When Entering Drug Rehab

Teenager struggling with opiates

Over the past years, drug abuse and overdose has emerged as one of the leading causes of fatalities in young adolescents aged 15 to 19 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Recovering from addiction is strenuous and time-consuming for every patient. Teens recovering from addiction, however, face a unique set of challenges.

Since teenage years are essentially characterized by rapid life changes and brain development, teens are in need of continued support from friends, family and therapists to reduce their chances of relapse. With a strong support system and perseverance, young adolescents can live a healthy and fulfilling life, free of addiction.

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Addiction and Teenagers: The Road to Drug Rehab

Since their brains are still undergoing significant developments, teenagers are particularly vulnerable to substance abuse. They are a lot more willing to take risks and experiment.

Additionally, individuals with a genetic predisposition to addiction experience the effects of drugs and alcohol differently than others. Behavioral tendencies, such as impulsivity, neurosis​​ or thrill-seeking traits, can prove to be early indicators of potential substance abuse.

Sad female teenagerFor such individuals, addiction is a chronic disorder, identical to the likes of diabetes or heart disease.

It is almost impossible for them to fully comprehend the compulsive nature of addiction. [1]

The recent substantiated increases in the availability of opiates or painkillers, normalization of “performance enhancement,” and the rising trend of medication in children at a young age (prescription of Ritalin for ADHD), have perpetrated a culture of self-medication.

This plays as much a role in young substance abuse as developmentally related traits discussed previously.

Despite such a troubling scenario, what further complicates matters is the lack of resources for addiction treatment that are difficult to find, costly and often fail to meet patients’ needs.  There is an absence of psychiatry departments altogether in the majority of children’s hospitals, let alone any comprehensive provision of substance abuse treatment.

Furthermore, the potential of existing addiction services are constrained by the associated stigma at the medical and public level. Many youngsters may even avoid accepting they have a problem and seeking the necessary help for it.

The Profound Impact of Peer Pressure

The impact of peer pressure during treatment is more profound in an outpatient setting than an inpatient one. In an outpatient program, the teen continues to live at home and interact with school, friends and family, while simultaneously working toward recovery through therapy and support group meetings.

It may be possible to control a teen’s home environment, but little can be done in situations like parties, where there is often intense pressure to fit in. This can quickly undo all previous efforts to remain clean and sober.

Since there is no constant monitoring in a program like this, most responsibility falls on the parents to prevent or watch out for signs of abuse. In case the teen slips, transition into a more intensive level of care may be the next step.

Social Isolation and Triggers in Recovery

Boredom and a sense of loneliness are extremely common for teenagers in treatment. Recovering from addiction may mean taking a step back from routine life, socialization and extracurricular activities.

Hence, it is common for a recovering teen to feel left out or out of touch with current events and peers. This is particularly in the case of an inpatient program, where the teen lives within the walls of the treatment facility and is completely removed from the environment that facilitated the addiction.

Teen enjoying time with Dad

Even though it is proven to be a highly effective way to influence positive change in the teen’s behavior, the teen may feel isolated from life and the world.

Addiction recovery is often marked by self-pity for the patients in recovery. The first step is to accepting and understanding the addiction as a problem.

Such fluctuations in self-esteem may make the teen feel like they have failed, or ruined their lives, or that their addiction will continue to define the rest of their lives.

At such a young age, the patients may not have the perspective to envision a long-term future for themselves in addiction recovery.

Furthermore, teens can be impatient. They may feel that their recovery is probably not going fast enough or as if they are making too many sacrifices for their recovery program.

The initial stages of addiction recovery are marked by negative and unstable emotions that can be challenging to battle. A recovering teen may struggle to attain an optimistic, yet realistic, attitude. [2]

Teens mainly face academic stress and triggers due to major life changes. During addiction recovery, teens are essentially taught new coping strategies to deal with signs of stress, such as anxiety and loss of sleep. Without such tools, a recovering teen will resort right back to their old habits in order to cope with a challenge.

After treatment, going back to school will be one such challenge. Teens entering drug rehab will be stressed out about missing school and then prepare for going back to face several triggering social situations, scrutiny from friends and the associated stigma with addiction.

The Role of Parental Awareness in Relapse Prevention

A study published by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in March 2017 discovered that one in four homes surveyed kept prescription painkillers in unlocked cabinets and largely accessible to children. More than half of these homes kept alcohol out in the open.

Teen stressed about drug rehab and addiction

The study concluded that most parents lacked the appropriate amount of concern and information regarding the probability of their child using drugs. Almost eight in 10 parents surveyed believed they had enough education about child substance use.

Yet, these parents could only name two out of the 38 warning signs of substance abuse. These included diminishing hygiene, sudden change in grades or school attendance, and a dramatic change in friendships. [3]

Experts strongly believe that delaying drug experimentation in early adolescence is the key in prevention of addiction. As per the CASA Columbia, almost 90 percent of addicts develop their addiction before the age of 18.

Researchers advise parents that it may be better to be just overly cautious. The sooner conversations regarding substance abuse and addiction are initiated, the lower the chances for early experimentation.

During this crucial period, parents must prioritize spending maximum quality time with their recovering child for relapse prevention.

Furthermore, healthy relationships with trusted friends, engagements with positive support systems, and distancing from toxic influence should be greatly encouraged.


Sana Ahmed photoAbout the Author:

A journalist and social media savvy content writer with wide research, print and on-air interview skills, Sana Ahmed has previously worked as staff writer for a renowned rehabilitation institute focusing on mental health and addiction recovery, a content writer for a marketing agency, an editor for a business magazine and been an on-air news broadcaster.

Sana graduated with a Bachelors in Economics and Management from London School of Economics and began a career of research and writing right after. The art of using words to educate, stir emotions, create change and provoke action is at the core of her career, as she strives to develop content and deliver news that matters.


[1] https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/brain-and-addiction
[2] http://www.projectknow.com/the-r-word-5-relapse-triggers-facing-teens-in-recovery/
[3] http://health.usnews.com/health-news/best-childrens-hospitals/articles/2014/06/10/teens-with-addiction-have-few-recovery-programs

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on July 29, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 29, 2017
Published on AddictionHope.com

About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.