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Many parents feel uncertain and ill-prepared when their child has completed inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment. You probably have many questions about how to best support your teen’s recovery and you may be feeling extra pressure.

We put this guide together to answer those questions. We want to give parents hope that they can find tools and supports to make their families stronger, and deal with the complex and challenging situations that parents and children experience during the days, months and years after treatment.

Unfortunately, there is very little scientific evidence for parents on how to best support their child’s recovery. All of the information you’ll find here, however, is based on well-established behavioral principles, clinical experience and related research.

Keep in mind that each parent, child and family is unique. You’ll need to take into account your family’s strengths and weaknesses, the severity of your child’s substance use and the presence of co-occurring disorders. Most families will benefit from support and other professional help after their teen finishes treatment, including family therapy.

Sometimes the situation is complex and requires the help of a skilled professional who can help you learn about the options that are best for your family. Please note that the information you’ll find here does not take the place of a health professional whom you should collaborate with to help your teen manage his or her addiction.

We hope this guide will help you figure out what might best support your recovery journey together.


What do I need to be on the look-out for after my child finishes treatment?

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Drug dependent adolescents are susceptible to cravings and relapse when they are exposed to drug-related triggers such as places, people, and objects associated with their former drug use. Therefore it is important that you do whatever you can to limit exposure to these cues.

There is a wide range of recovery supports and services available to help individuals in recovery prevent relapses, get emotional support, maintain progress made in treatment, and live drug-free.

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How can I limit exposure to people, places and things associated with my child’s former drug-using life?

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In order to limit exposure, you have to stay aware of two things:

  1. Your child’s activities
  2. Social relationships – including online activities and connections

Engage in New Activities: It is important for teens to re-engage in meaningful academic or vocational pursuits after treatment. Encourage your child to get involved in new activities at school or elsewhere. Helping adolescents fill their time with healthy, rewarding, non-using behaviors and social activities can help them maintain abstinence. If possible, agree to provide the ride to and from the activity. Allow your child to try a few activities until one is found that your child likes.

Social Relationships: Help your child meet new friends through young persons’ AA meetings and community-based activities of interest. You should be aware that certain settings, like overnights with other friends, may provide an opportunity to use drugs and alcohol. Adolescents are emotionally sensitive, and relationship breakups might be particularly devastating. Keep track of moods and stress levels and how your child reacts to them. If you know that a difficult or stressful situation is ahead, communicate with your child about it and watch carefully to see how the situation is handled.

“Helping adolescents fill their time with healthy, rewarding, non-using behaviors and social activities can help them maintain abstinence and find other positive reinforcement.”

We found it helpful to get our son back to some of the fun activities he loved and excelled at prior to his use. - Paul Kusiak, parent
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How can I let my child know that I will be monitoring his or her behavior?

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You should begin by having a conversation about how things need to be different between you (and other household members) and your child. It is a good idea to be clear about how this will be a good thing and to bring up positive reasons why things will need to change in the house. If your child knows what is expected, your home environment will be more comfortable for everyone. This may help ease tensions and help your family to enjoy being around each other again and do more fun activities together.

Maybe it’s new for you to set rules and boundaries, and to enforce consequences when those rules are broken. If that is true, it’s critical to think about how your relationship must change. During this initial conversation, you should discuss what will be expected of your child.  You may want to discuss expectations for helping out with chores around the house, curfews, frequency of monitoring drug use and what consequences will result if the rules are violated. There can be expectations placed not only on behavior, but on things like letting you know where he/she is after school or at whose house your child will be staying overnight, if you’ve given your permission.

It might be a good idea to set stricter boundaries directly after the treatment program ends. Then, if your child appears to be doing well, expand privileges with time. Monitoring activities and whereabouts is very important – it should be expected that you will want to know where your child is at all times, and who your child is with.

“If your child knows what is expected, the home environment will be more comfortable for everyone.”

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Isn’t setting rules around behavior going to interfere with my child’s ability to become independent?

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Many parents think that setting behavior rules is somehow interfering with their teen’s learning independence. This is not true, even if your child complains or acts out when you try to set rules. Especially in this case, monitoring behavior will help keep your child safe and healthy. It will be helpful if you can communicate to your child why you are monitoring. Saying, “It’s for your own good” doesn’t cut it. Consider walking your child through various high-risk situations and discussing possible negative and positive consequences. This might help show your teen that you’re not trying to control him, but that you want him to have the best possible chance to succeed in recovery.  

Example: “We are setting some house rules that you will need to follow and one of the rules is that you need to let us know where you are and what you are doing throughout the day. We’re not doing this to try to control you, we just need to know where you are so we aren’t worrying. We also hope that providing a bit more support and structure will be helpful to you in your recovery.”

It might be a good idea to set stricter boundaries directly after the treatment program ends. Then, if your child appears to be doing well, expand privileges with time. Monitoring activities and whereabouts is very important – it should be expected that you will want to know where your child is at all times, and who your child is with.

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My child really does not want me to do behavior monitoring. We end up fighting. Is this normal and how can I avoid getting into these situations?

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Because adolescents are still developing, be prepared for resistance. Teens can be arrogant, disrespectful, feel invincible (i.e., they might not understand the risks associated with use, and resist all forms of authority.) Remember that one important leverage point that you do have is that your child is your dependent. Even if they are no longer your legal dependent, your child is living in your house. You are providing for your child and therefore you can set rules around behavior.

Arguing back and forth about whether monitoring behavior is the right thing to do will go nowhere. It is important to convey that just like daily monitoring of blood sugar is necessary when someone is trying to control diabetes, frequent monitoring helps ensure that problems are uncovered as quickly as possible so that you can work together and get help right away. This is again why a written behavioral contract is important.

For example, do not say, “I think you should go to your counseling session this evening.” This invites debate. Instead, say “I will take you to your counseling session this evening and we can stop at (a favorite restaurant) after for dessert.”

 “Remember: you are providing for your child and therefore you can set rules around behavior.”

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Should I go so far as to check cell phone records or social media accounts for evidence that my child is using alcohol or other drugs after finishing treatment?

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Returning to the same drug-using group of friends is something that a teen in recovery should not do. An important part of recovery is building a supportive social network made up of peers who don’t drink alcohol or use drugs. In today’s society, part of socializing includes text messaging and social networking sites.

You may want to talk about what your child may be exposed to online, since there are many alcohol- and drug-related posts. Seeing drug use and drug paraphernalia can be a relapse trigger and thus, should be avoided. You might not be successful if you tell your child not to visit these social networking sites, but it’s important for you to be aware that your recovering adolescent will be exposed to relapse risks and to talk about it before it happens. This is again why a written behavioral contract is important.

“You may want to talk about what your child may be exposed to online, since there are many alcohol- and drug-related posts.”

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I’ve heard a lot about monitoring my child’s behavior with drug testing. How should I go about doing this? Is it safe for me to do it myself at home?

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Although drug testing to help support your child’s recovery is a good idea, it is not something you should attempt to do on your own. You need to work with someone who understands the limitations of drug testing, especially as it applies to teens who will readily switch the substances they use to get around a drug test.  Also, you will need help preparing how to respond to test results.  This involves setting up rewards for your child’s successes in abstaining from substance use, as well as learning to stay calm if your child tests positive for drugs.

Work with someone who understands the limitations of drug testing, especially as it applies to teens who will readily switch the substances they use to get around a drug test.

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What are some signs that relapse might have occurred?

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Warning signs can include secretiveness, lying, returning to seeing drug-using friends, stealing, skipping school, missing continuing care counseling sessions or groups, the smell of alcohol or marijuana or physical signs of substance use. An important thing to be aware of is how your child is doing in school. A drop in grades may signal your child is skipping class, seeing old drug-using friends or losing motivation (which can be a result of drug use). Seeing one of these signs does not guarantee your child has returned to using, but they signal a pretty high likelihood of relapse.

“A drop in grades may signal your child is skipping class, seeing old drug-using friends or losing motivation (which can be a result of drug use).”

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What can I do if I see signs of relapse?

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If you see any of these signs, you can express your concerns in a calm and supportive way. If you are able, you can also contact the continuing care provider to express concerns, or you can try to have your child return to an increased level of care. Although many providers will refuse to speak to parents because of professional confidentiality rules, there is no professional or ethical rule that states they cannot listen to information that you provide to them. You can still inform continuing care providers of your child’s relapse.

“If you see any of these signs, you can express your concerns in a calm and supportive way.”

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My child still won’t do what I ask. No matter what I do, the same communication problems exist between us.

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Many parents feel that substance abuse treatment should improve all of their child’s difficult behaviors. We are reminding you that you are still dealing with an adolescent who will undoubtedly display typical adolescent behavior (such as moodiness, challenges to authority, etc.) Substance abuse treatment is the beginning of change – and your child is still learning how to deal with problems and how to live without using substances. Also, drug treatment will not necessarily help other mental or behavioral problems that might have been present before your child started using drugs or alcohol.

If you are still concerned that the moodiness and anger is creating serious problems for your child or your family, you can express this concern to a professional and discuss the possibility of having your child assessed for emotional problems. Family therapy might be indicated in these situations and may help your family members learn better ways of communicating with one another. If your child is seeing a therapist or counselor individually as a part of the continuing care program, discuss your concerns with this person. If the counselor or therapist cannot speak to you because it will break confidentiality, clarify that you are not asking for any information – you just wish to share your observations and concerns.

“Remember that you are still dealing with an adolescent who will undoubtedly display typical adolescent behavior (such as moodiness, challenges to authority, etc.)” 

Once your child comes home from a treatment facility, get him or her into an outpatient program that offers your family support through group sessions.  This will help you learn how to communicate with your child in recovery. - Melissa Forsyth, parent
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© 2016 The Treatment Research Institute and Partnership for Drug-Free Kids