Learning to Trust and Becoming Trustworthy in Recovery

Contributor: Village Behavioral Health clinical content team member, Hugh C. McBride

cheering woman open arms ready to Trust “Why won’t you ever trust me?” – Every teenager at one point in his or her life.

“I’ll trust you when you start proving that you’re trustworthy!” – Every parent, in response.

Maybe it’s a bit of an exaggeration to claim that this exchange is a truly universal experience. But ask the next 10 parents you meet if it sounds familiar to them, and the odds are good that at least seven will nod their heads knowingly.

Now, of course, it’s true that “trust me” is often teen-speak for “leave me alone.” But it’s also true that, as they navigate the circuitous path from adolescence to adulthood, many teens place great importance on being deemed worthy of independence, autonomy, and that most fragile of gifts, trust.

Regaining Trust

In many cases, teens demonstrate trustworthiness by doing what they say they’ll do, being where they say they will, and otherwise acting in a manner that instills confidence in their parents. But what about teens who have already broken their parents’ trust by drinking, smoking marijuana, or engaging in other forms of substance abuse? What about teens who have struggled with addiction, a disease that causes sufferers to question their own thoughts, actions, and motives?

Once they’ve stopped using drugs and completed treatment, how do teens in recovery demonstrate their trustworthiness? And how do they learn to trust again? They do it the same way that they stay in recovery: One day at a time.

Treatment and Therapy

While in residential treatment for a substance use disorder, teens will be placed in daily situations that will encourage them to trust others. For individual therapy to be most beneficial, teens must trust their therapists.

Group of students in a hallwayFor group therapy to work as intended, they will have to trust their fellow participants. And as they prepare to pursue long-term recovery after discharge, they will have to begin to trust themselves again.

The highly structured and closely monitored environment of a residential program facilitates the gradual development of trust. With every drug-free day, teens start to believe that they actually can live a sober life. With each small success, they can see tangible evidence that the therapeutic process works.

The Power and Necessity of Trust

Both during and after treatment, the 12-step model of recovery has many lessons to teach about the power and necessity of trust. Turning one’s life over to a higher power is an obvious exercise in trust.

Revealing one’s fearless moral inventory to another person demands a significant amount of trust. Making amends is an ongoing expression of trust. Actually, every day of working the steps is a reaffirmation of trust in oneself, one’s support network, and the process itself.

These actions are closely aligned with the psychology – and the power — of rebuilding trust.

When a teen in recovery attempts to make amends to a person that he or she has harmed, this action is a demonstration of two important aspects of trust: responsibility and accountability. It also encompasses the two essential elements of rebuilding trust: seeing and acknowledging the pain that one has caused.

Honest Efforts

Every time the teen demonstrates a true understanding of the wrongness of a prior behavior, expresses a genuine apology, and makes an honest effort to right that past wrong, he or she takes a significant step in the effort to transform the pain of betrayal into the promise of renewed trust.

young man at the beach willing to Trust Every step on the path of recovery is a lesson in trust.

The day-to-day effort of honoring one’s commitment to health and sobriety, acknowledging painful truths, and taking responsibility for one’s actions is also a step-by-step demonstration of trustworthiness.

For many teens whose decisions and disorders have derailed their progress, the essential first steps on this path to being a trusting and trustworthy person are taken within the supportive structure of a residential treatment program.

For teens who take the lessons of treatment to heart, the question at the outset of this post changes from “Why won’t you ever trust me?” to “How can I prove that I’m worthy of your trust today?”


[1] http://www.al-anon.alateen.org/the-twelve-steps

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/is-psychology-making-us-sick/201310/building-repairing-trust-keys-sustainable-relationship

About the Author:

Hugh C. McBride. Hugh has several years of experience researching and writing on a wide range of topics related to behavioral healthcare. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Grove City College.

Site Description:

Village Behavioral Health is a leading provider of residential treatment for children who are suffering from psychiatric concerns and/or substance abuse issues. Our alcohol and drug program engages adolescents in treatment by using the 12-step model, teaching relapse prevention, and showing them how they can gain control over their addiction. Located in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, Village Behavioral Health provides children with the ideal setting to confront challenges, overcome difficulties, and develop the tools needed to have a happy and successful future.

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 a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, 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 May 28, 2015
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 12, 2021
Published on AddictionHope.com