Parent’s Guide to Helping Teens Recover from Addiction  

How can parents help teens recover from addiction?

teens recover from addiction

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No parent likes to acknowledge that their teen has an addiction problem. The teenage years are years where experimentation occurs and teens many times try alcohol and drugs just to “fit into the crowd”. Most teens outgrow this phase, but some become addicted to substances rather quickly and develop a serious addiction. It can be difficult for parents to judge whether an addiction is present at first as all teens are moody and unpredictable as are addicts. The main factors to watch for, however, are: 

  1. A sudden change in behavior with a loss of interest in activities.
  2. A change in eating habits as most addicts do not eat routinely.
  3. Staying awake for long periods and then sleeping for long periods. This occurs primarily with cocaine addictions as there is a high that first occurs, that keeps the addict awake and lively, but a crash occurs later that makes the addict overly tired. 
  4. Anger and aggression. This is a true sign of an amphetamine or methamphetamine addiction. Methamphetamine addictions are considered very dangerous addictions as the addict loses the concept of reality. Hallucinations can occur and addicts have been known to attack others or engage in dangerous behaviors. Methamphetamine creates significant changes in the brain, and it is a difficult addiction to overcome. 
  5. Weaving and slurring of words as well as dozing off. This occurs with both heroin and alcohol.

Once a parent discovers signs of an addiction early intervention is the key

However, getting a teen to admit to addiction or even submit to treatment can be a challenge. If a parent already has a good relationship with a teen the job of discussing the addiction and getting treatment can be easier. If a poor relationship exists it is more difficult to discuss anything let alone a suspected addiction. There are steps, however, that parents can take to discover and get treatment for their teens if they are addicted. The first step is having a urine test and bloodwork run on their teenager to discover what if any drugs or alcohol are in their system. This can be a challenge as many teen addicts will not even take the first step. 

The second challenge is proving that a teenager is a threat to themselves or society while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Although in the USA, 37 states and the District of Columbia have involuntary admission laws in force, as do other countries, and the guidelines for committing a teen are high, and even when committed a teen may not cooperate with the program guidelines. Drug or alcohol addiction in many areas yet is not seen as a mental illness and this works against parents seeking help for their teens. 

Even when a teen seeks treatment parents need to watch for relapses

Relapses are common among addicts and the same is true for teens. There are things a parent can do to try and prevent relapse: 

  • Be aware of all the signs of addiction again as mentioned earlier.
  • Read and understand as much about addiction as possible.
  • Join a support group for parents of addicted teens or seek psychotherapy to repair family tensions that might be leading to the addiction.
  • Monitor the activities of the teen without being overly strict. A teen cannot feel like a prisoner and cannot avoid all contact with friends. However, parents do need to be aware of where their teen is and with whom. 
  • Therapy works well for the teen and the parents can join in that also. 
  • Try to avoid situations that could lead to harming others or the teen. That could mean limiting driving or traveling out of state if a teen is newly recovered or seems to have a relapse. Being under the influence behind the wheel of a car can be disastrous for the teen and others. When being out of the state, a teen can easily relapse as no one is there for emotional support.
  • Finally, a parent does need to offer as much emotional support as possible, without being judgmental. Teens, like other addicts, do not choose addiction, but rather fall into it. Evaluating why a teen seeks to escape reality by using drugs or alcohol, can assist greatly. Family interactions may need to be changed and patterns of behavior that impact a teen negatively should be discovered. There is a lot of time and effort involved in assisting a teen who suffers from addiction. 

More steps to take in implementing a parent’s guide to helping an addicted teen

  • Remove all drugs, alcohol, and drug paraphernalia from a home. Sometimes a teen that is craving drugs will switch from one drug to alcohol which may be readily available in a home even if not in a traditional form. Mouthwash contains a higher amount of alcohol than some alcoholic beverages and addicts have been known to drink it. Household sprays can also be a problem as “huffing” can occur, which is sniffing the chemicals in the spray. A great deal of ongoing vigilance is needed.
  • Question all suspicious activities at once without harassing the teen. 
  • Remember that a parent’s main role is to keep their teen safe, not to be a best friend. An addicted teen that has completed rehab can be angry and unruly at times, but parents should never cave in to demands just to “keep the peace.” 
  • Immediately seek help again ASAP, search for drug detox near me, if a relapse occurs without any kind of judgment or lectures. Teens are fragile and emotional and a judgmental attitude by parents will just drive a teenager deeper into addiction. 


Acceptance by parents that addiction even in teens is an ongoing process with setbacks is necessary. Even smokers might quit smoking for a while only to return to it many times until quitting permanently. Parents need to embrace all life changes as permanent changes and assist a teen struggling with addiction with love and acceptance each step of the way. Most of all, teen addicts should not in any way be “enabled” by parents in the addiction process even when parents can see that a teen is hurting without drugs or alcohol. Too much love is as great a danger to a teen’s recovery as too little love.

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