The Unique Struggles of Being a Teen in Recovery

The adolescent and teenage years are already fraught with emotional upheaval. But, adding drugs and alcohol to the mix only makes things worse, in an already unstable time. The teenage years are marked by establishing a separate identity, apart from parents, independence, less parental oversight, and, of course, rebellion.

What would teenage rebellion be without alternative music and drugs? For some, a little harmless pot smoking turns into a full-blown addiction. According to the TEDS Report, approximately 1.5 million American teens could be considered chemically dependent or addicted in 2009.

Being a teenager in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction can be very isolating. When I realized I was different from my peers, my addiction only deepened. But, being a teen addict in 2015 is a lot different from when I first went to treatment. Teenagers in recovery face unique challenges and struggles.


In 2015, we communicate via text, Facebook, and a bevy of other ways, but rarely face-to-face. We get most information at the click of our fingertips– online. You can shop online, meet your life partner online, and, even, buy drugs online. Praise the Lord this wasn’t the case when I was a teenager.

When I was in treatment in 2013, I met a girl who had transferred from the youth department into the adult extended care program. She explained to me that there is a website that you can go onto, buy these things called “bitcoins,” which are apparently a type of secret currency, and have heroin shipped straight to your house.

I was dumbfounded! I’m not exactly the most tech-savvy in the first place, but this just blew my mind. And, it wasn’t just heroin they could get. You could choose from a wide range of illicit substances. So, there’s that. That being the internet. Old are the days of meeting a dealer.

For a teen in recovery, this can be extremely dangerous. When one is in the mind frame of relapsing, there need to be as many obstacles between them and the substance. And, this totally removes any and all obstacles. The last thing a parent thinks his child is doing on the internet is buying drugs.

Peer pressure

We’ve all been there. Here, try this, smoke this. While some of us will experience peer pressure in adulthood, we are much more vulnerable to peer pressure as teens and adolescents. We are much less sure of ourselves, more insecure, and easily swayed.

Unfortunately, peer pressure is not harmless for everyone who caves to the pressure. For an addict to begin the downward spiral into addiction, all it takes is the one time getting high, or drunk. So, some kids may hit a joint a couple of times and feel great and move on. The other portion, who are addicts, will hit the joint, or whatever, and feel that something that was once missing is now in place. And, he will chase that feeling for the rest of his life.

The desire to feel “cool” or to “fit in” can easily outweigh any program of recovery. It is possible for teens to live a life in recovery, but it is rare and very difficult. Often, by that point, the consequences of use are not comparable to the desire to use. In adulthood, there are many devastating consequences that have been felt due to addiction, so it is a lot easier to call on those and “play the tape” before using them. Again, that is not to say that there aren’t teens out there in recovery who have suffered devastating consequences at the hand of addiction. Because there are.

Emotional instability

The teenage years are, without a doubt, marked with high levels of emotional instability. There are constant ups and downs. From puberty into adulthood, life will probably feel like a roller coaster. This fact makes teens much more apt to relapse.

For an adult, finding emotional balance and emotional sobriety is the way to stay sober. But, teens will inherently have a more difficult time with this due to puberty, growth, etc. Hormones and feelings are all over the place, so reaching for a substance, or caving to pressures are much more likely. While the adult life is not so much different in that there is a lot of unpredictability, reactions to our external world will change.

Because teens have not reached adulthood and are still trying to find out who they are, they may explore different forms of self-expression. Some will never fit in. Some may fit in, but may never feel a part of the group. Again, adults will continue to feel this way. But, the disease of addiction can be more apparent in high school and junior high because of the magnified instances of group activities. In real life, there is no prom, honor roll, or baseball team.

How to live clean & sober

The National Institute of Drug Abuse for Teens outlines a helpful formula for overcoming addiction:

Seek treatment

The first step to recovery is to decide to seek treatment. It’s hard for people to recognize or admit they have a problem, even when they are putting their lives – or the lives of others – at risk. It doesn’t help that the brain’s decision-making center is impaired when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Treatment may mean medications, behavioral counseling, or a combination of the two.

Learn new habits

Relapse (or returning to drug use) is common with addiction and is an expected part of treatment. Returning to the people, places, or things associated with former drug use can actually trigger relapse—before the addicted person is even aware of it. Behavioral therapy can teach the person in recovery to avoid these triggers and learn new coping skills so they can make better decisions.

Take it one step at a time

Recovery takes time. Treatment works best when it is long-term, at least 90 days in most cases. And because people treated for drug addiction are vulnerable to relapse even after they’ve been off drugs for a long while, most treatment professionals would say that someone with a past drug or alcohol problem is “in recovery” for a lifetime.

If you are interested in finding drug abuse treatment for yourself or a friend or family member, contact us today at the Palm Beach Institute.

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