Tools for Connecting With a Teen in Recovery
As it is, connecting with a teenaged child can be challenging for even the most seasoned of parents … but how do you connect with a teen who’s just home from rehab and in early recovery? Get some helpful pointers here.
You want the best for your teen, especially now that he or she has returned home from alcohol or drug rehab and is entering the initial period of recovery. You wonder what you should say, what the best approach might be to foster a positive attitude and encourage goals your teen may have established while in treatment. You also know that the coming weeks and months may be difficult as your teen struggles to get used to living in sobriety, especially since addiction is a chronic relapsing disease. Connecting is more important than ever. Here are some tools that can help.
GETTING PAST TEEN ANGST
Normal adolescence is a time of emotional upheaval, driven by developmental changes and fluctuating levels of testosterone in boys and estrogen in girls. During this period, teens often experience bouts of discouragement, sadness, slight depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-rejection, aggression, stress, confusion, and dramatic shifts from feeling up to feeling down. Teens in recovery go through the same emotional turmoil, perhaps more exaggerated at times compared to their peers not in recovery, yet upsetting and tough to deal with just the same.
Faced with an emotional outburst from their teenaged son or daughter, any parent may begin to question their parenting skills, changing their approach to meet the challenges of the day. It’s important to remember that underneath it all is the same teen. He or she is attempting to deal with radical changes in lifestyle and behavior, a perceived loss of freedom and a mistaken belief that they are somehow being punished. They may harbor residual anger over being deprived of hanging out with drug-using friends or cut off from peers that want to party. Getting past normal teen angst, coupled with the additional strain of the teen’s coming to grips with newfound sobriety is quite an undertaking. It is, however, one well worth the effort to help your teen in recovery establish a firm foundation in sobriety.
TEND TO THE BASICS
Adhering to the type of structured routine your teen experienced during treatment is an important first step in making sure you’re able to connect with your recovering teen and deal with mood swings. This means tending to the basics, such as:
SLEEP: ensuring your teen gets sufficient sleep each night. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 8 to 10 hours of sleep for growing teens.
DIET: A well-balanced diet is another basic component of your teen’s recovery. Starting the day with a healthy breakfast primes your teen to have a more stable mood.
EXERCISE: Similarly, some form of vigorous exercise daily helps decrease stress and improve mood because of the endorphins that such activity releases in the brain.
While diet, exercise and sleep aren’t the only things to pay attention to for your teen’s recovery, they are crucial to continuing the healthy lifestyle changes encouraged during treatment.
HOW TO CONNECT
Instead of worrying about mistakes you might make, stick with the experts’ tried-and-true recommendations on connecting with your teen in recovery. What’s next is likely to be a roller-coaster ride with some days an unqualified success and other times tinged with disappointment and perhaps a setback or two.
- Continuing care is vitally important for both parents and their recovering teen. Making sure your teen attends continuing care meetings, whether group or individual therapy or 12-step meetings is part of the process of helping your teen establish and maintain solid recovery. What if your teen seems distant, uncommunicative? Perhaps you feel distant from your teen as well. Remember that you, as parents, are instrumental in ensuring a safe and supportive environment for your teen to heal. Understanding what he or she is going through and showing your support is crucial. Ask how meetings are going, if the therapist(s), group leaders and/or sponsors are helpful, if the teen feels he or she is getting something out of the meetings/sessions, and if they like others in the group.
- Use positive reinforcement instead of punishment as a first-line defense to promote abstinence and good behavior. Besides, in the long run, controlling your teen’s behavior by punishing it often backfires, making a defiant teen more secretive about his or her behavior and damaging your relationship with your teen. As positive reinforcement is more effective, use the general rule of at least five positives to every one negative.
- Make it clear that abstinence from alcohol and drugs is a family house rule. Your teen needs to understand from your communication that breaking the abstinence rule is not acceptable. This includes your teen misusing prescription medications prescribed by his or her doctor or obtaining and using prescription drugs from someone else. Besides being illegal, teen drug and alcohol use may do long-term damage to their brains, since they continue to develop until the mid-20s. When your teen knows parental expectations about abstinence, he or she is less likely to relapse.
- Drug testing and monitoring is the only way to know if your teen is abstaining from drug and alcohol use. Use a healthcare provider knowledgeable about teen substance abuse use and drug testing. Random testing two to three times a week is recommended. Communicate with your teen the consequences for a drug test coming back positive, as well as rewards for remaining abstinent. Similarly, your teen needs to know what the consequences will be for breaking any of the house rules. To ensure you and your teen are in sync with these rules, it may be helpful to draw up a contract. Rewards may include praise, acknowledgment for accomplishments, or earning privileges, such as extra cell phone use or driving rewards, a favorite meal, or being permitted more time with friends.
- Be loving and caring in all interactions with your teen in recovery. Demonstrate with action and words that you love your teen and will always stand with him or her, through good times and bad. Teens need to know that they are loved unconditionally, especially teens who are new to sobriety and trying to establish a firm foundation in recovery.
- Encourage your teen to get involved in new activities post-treatment. These can be academic or vocational pursuits. In addition, help your teen to develop social relationships with other teens at activities in the community and at young persons’ Alcoholics Anonymous meetings (Alateen).
- If your teen remains defiant, resistant to change, and/or you see signs or suspect a return to drug and alcohol use, perhaps going back to treatment may be appropriate. Additional one-on-one therapy or seeing a professional for an assessment of emotional problems may be necessary. Family therapy may also be recommended to help everyone communicate better with the teen in recovery.
Al-Anon Family Groups, “How Will Alateen Help Me?” Retrieved May 22, 2017
Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, “Brain Development & Teen Behavior.” Retrieved May 22, 2017
Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, “Continuing Care: Keeping Your Child Healthy Following Treatment.” Retrieved May 22, 2017
Psychology Today, “Adolescence and Emotion: Why there is more emotional intensity to manage during adolescence.” Retrieved May 22, 2017
Treatment Research Institute (TRI), Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, “Continuing Care, Section 2, Ensuring Follow-Through.” Retrieved May 22, 2017
Treatment Research Institute (TRI), Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, “Continuing Care, Section 3, Reinforcing the Message.” Retrieved May 22, 2017