9 Steps to Take When Your Recovering Teen Comes Home from Addiction Treatment

coming home from treatment

It’s so easy to have high expectations for a teen coming home from addiction treatment, but what teens need to know is how important they are to their own recovery. Failure is not the end, and success is up to them. Substance use disorder creates an enormous amount of stress for a family, and there is no guarantee of the outcome of recovery without effort and work.

Luckily, you know who your teen is and how you can best support him or her. There are many ways for the whole family to work together that can enhance the success of a teen’s recovery. Here are a few:

1.    Willingly engage in the process of recovery. Recovery takes the entire family’s help. You’ve survived together through major crises and now have the chance to repair family bonds.

2.    See this in a new light. You know that your teen’s substance use was not a passing fad, so “accept” your teen’s addiction. Understand that addiction is a disease, not a choice. Look at recovery as an enduring process, not a single event. Don’t view relapse as a failure, but accept recovery, at any time, as a success. Usually, it is the biggest success in someone’s life that is struggling with addiction.

3.    View your teen’s recovery as important. Your son or daughter has a huge burden and deserves to know the freedom of recovery. Offer reassurance. Knowing that he or she has your support can help give strength to make it. A person in recovery needs to accept who he or she is to stay sober. Drugs were a way of hiding and eventually became a way of life. Recovery depends on facing ourselves, head on, while taking it all one day at a time.

4.    Respect your teen’s return home by expecting what you would of a house guest. Encourage courtesy, gratitude and other human graces. These attributes will heal dysfunction in the family. Living with a recovering teen is still a challenge, but kindness and mutuality will help everyone.

5.    Put expectations aside. Parents usually have big plans for their teens. Right now, maintaining recovery is as big an accomplishment as any. Placing more importance on anything else is stress that your teen might not need for a while. Encourage your teen to resume education and work activities at his or her own pace. Recommend physical exercise, lots of water, sleep and healthy food.

6.    Don’t underestimate addiction. Without work, recovery can crumble. Have a plan for relapse. Encourage creating bonds with other teens in recovery. Treatment plans should cover these things. A teen getting back on track can happen just as quickly as he or she relapses. Remember, failure is just another step closer to success.

7.    Be resilient and be prepared. Living with a child who relapsed can necessitate outside help and tough consequences. Do this rationally and discuss consequences with your teen. If relapse persists, consider co-occurring disorders which might negate your teen’s ability to engage recovery without counseling and/or psychiatric evaluation. It gets harder to deal with this once your child turns 18.

8.    Establish mutual boundaries. Remember, addiction does not respect societal age limits. Up until age 18, parents are in a state of legal bondage to a teen with an addiction, yet your teen did painfully adult things. That makes finding the right boundaries hard. Know the law and make an effort to learn appropriate boundaries with appropriate consequences that preserve the mutual respect among the entire household. A recovering teen needs to learn about boundaries and responsibility, but is often stuck on bad habits. Be patient, but persistent. Use outside help to determine a course of action for broken boundaries or lack thereof.

9.    There is rarely a good reason to lose hope or give up. Be courageous. Be resolved within yourself to further help your teen. See this as an opportunity for everyone’s personal growth.

Recovery 101

An overview of what being in recovery really means for your family and your child with a substance use disorder.

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    Cathy | Treatment Talk

    June 19, 2011 at 5:40 AM

    Great list of ways for the family to work together! As some of the previous comments, I would recommend Al-Anon or familiesanonymous.org. Parents need to have the support of other parents who have had the same experience. People that are close friends and family can help, but they don’t truly understand unless they have had the addiction in their family. It’s important that parents do not feel isolated.

    I also would add forgiveness as just something to remember. So much of the negative behavior is the addiction and I think it’s important to forgive and move on. I’m sure this list will be helpful to many people.

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    Barry Lessin, M.Ed., CACD

    June 14, 2011 at 2:27 PM

    I love the focus here on the resilience that lies within our families. We often lose sight of this when we’re depleted from the consequences of addiction. Our resilience gives us courage and strength to help us repair the damage.

    We also lose sight of the fact that recovery is a process. I’m always reminding the families I work with to view recovery in stages of success and setbacks and any period of sobriety is a huge accomplishment for the addict.

    Barry Lessin

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    Patti Herndon

    June 13, 2011 at 4:47 PM

    This is good stuff! Number 5 has particular relevance in terms of the critical encouragement a teen, or anyone else requires, who is struggling with a substance use disorder.

    It’s common for us, as parents, and other CSO’s, to lack frame of reference, or to lose sight of the huge amount of focus required to initiate, build on and strengthen and sustain the foundation of sobriety -especially if we’ve never struggled with alcohol/drug addiction ourselves. That process of building strength/resolve regarding sobriety is especially vulnerable in the early stages of change and after a relapse…this is especially true for teens as they undergo so much physiological and psychological change in that particular stage of life.

    One way to respect the addiction-challenged individual’s process is by working consistently toward raising our own awareness about those things we can do to support their momentum in recovery. This requires fostering our own ability to recognize those times that we need to take a breath and, basically, “back off” with regard to our own expectations regarding where we think our addiction-challenged loved one ought to be in terms of life management issues…i.e. work/education goals, etc.. Doesn’t mean we don’t have healthy boundaries in place or encourage development of these kinds of necessary goals…Just means we take notice of the ways we might be contributing to the piling on of stress (thus distracting from momentum) by underestimating the amount of energy and focus required by someone who is substance dependent to “dig in” to recovery as their priority. Sobriety must be their priority in order for it to take root.

    It’s not an easy balance for anyone -the addiction-challenged person, or the parent/CSO. It can, absolutely, happen, though. Balance-that is. We do the best we can at any given moment with what we know at the time. And by learning about addiction -how the family system can work to support recovery, as well as continued learning regarding the biological and psychological elements associated with addiction; we get better and better at supporting our addicted family member through increasingly healthier expectations and healthy flexibility-serving the individuals process of recovery AND our sense of hope, empowerment and peace as family members/loved ones.

    In addition to helpful peer support resources such as Families Anonymous, and Al-anon, there are other support resources designed for family members. Having a menu of options in support is an awesome thing…Gives us the opportunity to increasingly develop our perspective/engage those thoughts onto actions and interactions that move us further and further down the road.


    Addiction is the journey. Recovery is the destination.

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    Dad 4 Truth

    June 11, 2011 at 11:04 PM

    Good post.

    Few authors ever mention Familes Anonymous as a support group for parents. I suggest checking it out at http://www.familiesanonymous.org FA is like Al-Anon but it’s specifically designs for parents. Their Web site has everything a parent needs to support their recovery and understand their childs disease. And even if there is not a local meeting their online forums and support is outstanding.

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    June 11, 2011 at 6:16 PM

    Excellent advice, Bill. This is so important for parents to understand.

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