Teen Chronic Relapse Treatment

Drug addiction affects every teen differently. For some, a single round of treatment is enough to get them back on track and they never use again. Others seem to struggle more much more, seeming entirely unable to remain sober despite continuous interventions. These teens are often experiencing a phenomenon known as “chronic relapse.”

Chronic relapse is exceptionally complex, and teen chronic relapse treatment can be difficult, time-consuming, and challenging. Often, teens need a totally unique approach to recovery or they may need help committing to the process. It’s common for teens who chronically relapse to go through multiple treatment programs before finding the right fit – but there IS hope.

What Does Chronic Relapse Look Like?

  • It’s normal to relapse during recovery – in fact, nearly 50 percent of all people recovering from drug or alcohol use will relapse at least one time within the first year of sober living. Chronic relapsing is much more frequent and often, far more blatant. Teens graduate out of treatment and almost immediately go back to using, or they may even relapse before they get out of treatment in the first place.
  • Education and guidance are two of the most important facets of recovery. It’s critical to give addicted teens the resources to manage cravings and symptoms. But teens who chronically relapse don’t seem to benefit from this kind of help in the same way. It isn’t an issue of intellectual ignorance, or even of emotional intelligence; often, the teen doesn’t believe they can – or even want to – remain sober long-term.
  • Chronic relapses often seem cyclical in nature, occurring every few months or weeks at certain points in the recovery process. Often, this is because teens don’t believe in the process or slowly lose faith over time. While they may engage at first, it becomes more and more obvious that they’re feigning commitment. In some cases, this may be due to an inherently manipulative personality, although this isn’t always the case.
  • It’s far more common for chronic relapsers to be secretly or openly disillusioned with the process. They aren’t bad, cruel, or evil – they just can’t find any hope or any reason to continue because it doesn’t seem to work for them. Accepting and acknowledging the fact that teens don’t believe they can ever beat their addiction is critical to finding a treatment path that works.
  • A lack of change in lifestyle or circumstances may lead to chronic relapse, too. Teens excel at treatment, but the moment they come home, are immediately inundated with triggers and end up using again. Addressing this disconnect is also critical.

Signs of Chronic Relapse

Isolation and withdrawal

Quitting rehab early

Intense panic attacks or anxiety

Inability to stay sober

Depression and/or Anxiety

Feeling helpless

Cycling through treatments

Fear of germs

Disinterest in long-term sober living

What Causes Chronic Relapse?

Unstable post-rehab environment – In order to achieve sobriety, an addicted teen needs to commit themselves to the treatment process for life. This includes both the goals and tenets of successful sober living. If teens only do that while they’re in a recovery facility, either out of real effort or deception, they will relapse once they leave.

Support networks are critical to helping teens ride out a tumultuous post-recovery life, and the chaos that comes with it, without spiraling back towards addiction or losing hope. To stay clean long-term, teens must have the right help, support, and resources both in treatment and when they graduate back into the community. This includes at home, at work, at school, and anywhere else they go during the first critical three to five years of sobriety.

Mental health issues – Some teens who relapse chronically are really suffering from a personality disorder or maladaptive personality traits. It is exceptionally common for chronic relapsers to be exceptionally manipulative as a result of an inability to communicate their feelings and/or end co-dependencies. Others struggle with defensiveness or self-destructive tendencies after developing PTSD, depression, and other mental health disorders.

Lack of patient-specific treatment – Research shows that cookie cutter treatment programs really just don’t work. Instead, teens need an individualized approach, especially in teen chronic relapse treatment. They must be shown to meet challenges in the face of unique circumstances, all while being protected from their own ability to harm themselves with drugs and alcohol, in order to get well. This means addressing the whole patient, including their spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional wellness as well as their lifelong goals, hopes, and dreams. All of these factors contribute to addiction.

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of all people suffering from addiction relapse


of all people in recovery relapse in the first year


of people relapse after the five-year mark

How Can Teen Chronic Relapse Treatment Help

Promote an environment conducive to recovery – it isn’t reasonable to expect teens to live in treatment centers forever, but it’s equally important to understand how to determine the right time to leave treatment. The transition between rehab at home, and long-term several living, can be extremely jarring for teens. In many ways, this is a kind of shock; teens of grown adept at staying sober in treatment, but in treatment they weren’t faced with all of their old triggers, stressors, and life experiences.

Teens who are chronic relapsers may need a more streamlined approach, such as long-term residential sober living, in order to stay clean. An addiction specialist can help you identify the best option for your teen.

Explore recovery options after rehab – Teens who relapse chronically need a special focus on continuing sober living support after they leave treatment. While every addicted person’s needs are unique, and it may take a while to find the right strategies to fit their needs, there are countless options available to empower your teen to get – and stay – well. Individual therapy, group therapy, regular check-ups, and individualized care with a psychiatrist or psychologist are a great place to start.

If your teen has already tried these methods, yet continues to relapse, don’t lose hope. Consistency and dedication is key; if they repeat the process often enough, and continue to learn from their relapses, they will eventually make progress. Chronic relapsers often recover over a period of months or even years, not just after a short stay in treatment.

Provide the support necessary for progress – While it can certainly be frustrating to watch your teen relapse over and over again, especially when you’re investing so much into their wellness, you should do your best to avoid shaming your teen. Your support is key for helping them recover and stay sober long-term, especially when they have a return to real life after they graduate out of treatment. You can’t – and shouldn’t – “do” recovery for them, but you should stand beside them, encourage them, comfort them when they fail, and celebrate their successes when they win. As a parent, it’s up to you to determine which type of support your teen needs (some need emotional support, while others simply need to be encouraged). In rare cases, the best “support” you can provide might come in the form of seeking help from outside professionals who can keep your teen safe. An addictions professional can help you find and maintain your role in their sobriety.

What Type of Treatment is Available for Chronic Relapse?

Teens who relapse chronically should be considered “severely addicted.” This level of addiction is in effect an emergency that requires immediate and intense intervention at a professional level. Continuing to relapse is a sign that your teen is missing something, be it the root cause of their addiction or the right treatment to recover fully. Getting them into a residential treatment facility is one of the best ways to ensure their safety.

Many teens who relapse constantly engage in other problematic behavior. They may be self-destructive, manipulative, avoidant, or even adept at faking recovery without actually engaging in the process. Most have lost hope in their ability to live, much less live a sober life without their drug of choice, and simply “exist” in the world instead.

Holistic Mental Healthcare

Treating teen chronic relapses, with or without other maladaptive behaviors, necessitates a multimodal (meaning several different paths) approach. This term refers to treatment plans that are integrative, taking into consider mental, physical, and spiritual wellness from the ground up. Instead of looking at the teen like just another addict, holistic mental healthcare views them as deeply troubled or broken individuals who need help.
Whether your teen’s issue is codependency, lifelong depression, a personality disorder, anxiety, PTSD, or something else, they deserve professional help. Treatment must go much deeper than the average recovery program to identify what drives them back to drugs.
While mental health problems are one of the most common factors, it isn’t easy to treat them or diagnose them in a short period of time. Medications like antidepressants, sleeping pills, antipsychotics, and even methadone maintenance therapy can take weeks to stabilize, leaving the teen vulnerable and possibly difficult to deal with in the meantime. This is part of the reason why it’s so important to look at recovery on a long-term basis.

Family Therapy

Teen chronic relapse often stems from problems within the home. In fact, it’s exceptionally common for loved ones to inadvertently enable an addicted teen or even to be taken advantage of by the teen. Family therapy with a licensed professional can help you analyze how the family handles recovery, and the hurdles that come with it, to eliminate problematic patterns and restore harmony. This process isn’t always easy, but it can be life-changing for all of you – and it can significantly improve their chances of recovery.

Long-Term Addiction Treatment

Thirty or 90-day treatment programs are helpful, but they aren’t enough for teen chronic relapse treatment. Teens should graduate out to another drug-free environment for as long as they can while they continue to build their sobriety skills. Families can help by becoming allies as teens find new ways to maintain the recovery schedule and further develop strong, healthy lives. This includes holding them accountable and being strict about appropriate and inappropriate behavior – like lying or avoidance of responsibility.

Helping Teens with Chronic Relapse at Paradigm San Francisco

Because helping teens through chronic relapse treatment can be so difficult, it is critically important to ensure they attend the right treatment facility. The facility’s therapists and counselors must be aware of, and experienced in, dealing with the special issues teens face when they can’t seem to stay sober, even despite help. At Paradigm San Francisco, every treatment plan starts with a thorough psychiatric evaluation to help us better understand your teen and the driving factors behind their addiction.

An Individual Path

Addiction is unique, as are the teens that suffer from it. Chronic relapse is also unique in that it often doesn’t respond to standard treatment methods. For this reason, Paradigm strives to treat every patient on an individual basis, considering their individual background, physical and emotional needs.

When customizing treatment plans, Paradigm’s addiction experts include a mix of classic and non-traditional therapies. Group and individual sessions form the core, giving teens the support they need to face and deal with their problems. We also carefully supervise teens to ensure they don’t encounter risky triggers or slip back into maladaptive behaviors while there with us. From day one, we help teens build new routines and habits that create a foundation for healthier living. Instead of allowing teens to simply “go through the motions,” we teach them to be accountable and honest about their own progress.

Deeper Treatment

Paradigm San Francisco also evaluates teen chronic relapse treatment progress by monitoring how teens behave and the underlying beliefs that contribute to their behavior. This gives us the best opportunity to really drill down and find out what’s driving them to use drugs or alcohol so they can become their authentic selves.

We also honor the important role parents play in recovery, working with both immediate and extended family or even friends to help improve and strengthen the teen’s support network  post-graduation. Families receive unlimited free support services after the teen graduates, helping to ensure that once they move on, they enjoy life-long sobriety.

My daughter's stay at Paradigm was life-changing for her. She felt safe enough during her stay that she was able to work on some deep emotional issues which had been haunting her for years. All staff who we had contact with are top-notch. I highly recommend this facility.

– Jamie L.

Frequently Asked Questions About Teen Chronic Relapse Treatment

If treatment hasn’t worked yet for my teen, why would it work now?

Teens are individuals with unique needs and personalities, and addiction treatment is very much just as unique. In fact, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for teen chronic relapse treatment. Every facility, clinic or professional uses a slightly different evidence-based method and philosophy to help reach teens and pull them back on track. Going through the process multiple times is not a failure – it’s just a sign that we need to do more to determine their best treatment options. We believe that intense holistic methodologies are the best way to ensure success.

Will my teen ever stop relapsing?

No one can answer this question for sure, and you can’t really force your teen to stop using drugs or alcohol. As long as your teen wants to try, and believes there is a chance they will be successful in staying sober, recovery will always be worth another try. If they’ve already lost hope, treatment must start with restoring that hope and confidence first. Only afterward will treatment finally result in long-term sobriety.


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