Contributing Factors to Teen Chronic Relapse and What To Do About It

The reoccurring experience of relapse indicates that there is a problem. If a teen continues to return to the drug or alcohol that has been destructive in life, then there’s likely a contributing factor to that relapse. There are likely circumstances that are preventing the full freedom from substance abuse.

It should be stated at the start that relapse doesn’t mean a teen is sentenced to addiction the rest of his or her life. In fact, even when there’s relapse, treatment and full recovery is possible. According to research, one third of patients who are in treatment for their addiction will achieve long-term sobriety with their first serious attempt at recovery. Another one third of patients will have brief relapse periods and then achieve abstinence, while another one third will go through teen chronic relapses before eventually recovering from their addiction. So, although relapse is common, it’s not an obstacle to achieving sobriety.

In order for treatment of an addiction to be successful, it has to address the various factors in a teen’s life that may be contributing to the continued use of alcohol or drugs. First of all, adolescents are already at particularly high risk because of the developmental stage they are in. The various emotional and psychological issues that are typical for teens can only exacerbate the pattern for relapse. For instance, his or her level of maturity, still feeling identified with the glamour of using drugs, an inability to surrender to treatment because of not yet hitting bottom, and returning to the same peer group after treatment. These factors play a significant role in a teen’s ability to get and stay sober. If not tended to in treatment, these factors can create a strengthening downward spiral where the feelings produced by relapse, such as failure, only add to the desire to use drugs, which are a means to cope with difficult feelings.

Furthermore, there are predisposing factors that can place a teen at risk for relapse. These include:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Concurring mental illness
  • High stress
  • Inadequate coping skills
  • Lack of support at home or school
  • Dysfunctional family
  • Lack of impulse control

At the same time, in addition to the factors that a teen possesses such as those named above, there might be circumstantial factors, such as:

  • Divorce of parents
  • A move away from old friends
  • Loss of a close friend or relative
  • Breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend

Along these lines, those who experience teen chronic relapse might continue to face the same difficult circumstances which mirror the reasons that got them drinking in the first place. As mentioned earlier, they may not have the skills to cope with resulting difficult emotions that, in turn, lead to drug use. There might be an existing mental illness; there could be an undiagnosed medical concern; or there might be peers, friends, or family members around them who are still using.

Obviously, creating a life of sobriety for adolescents includes treating not just the substance abuse but also treating any existing mental illnesses, addressing the underlying issues, providing teens with healthy coping mechanisms, creating strong support networks, and prescribing non-addiction medication, if necessary, to treat any physical concerns.

Of course, there are many factors that play a role in teen chronic relapse – as outlined above. However, assuming that all those issues are addressed, change will not happen unless a teen acknowledges there is a problem, until he or she weighs the pros and cons to change, and until he or she decides to make different choices.

This is a critical and essential part to recovery. For this reason, one of the most effective forms of treatment is a therapy called Motivational Interviewing. It is a treatment method that recognizes that a teen is going to have ambivalence about ending an addiction. If using alcohol or substances has brought relief from emotional pain, a dramatic increase in energy, and a euphoric feeling for life, among other perceived benefits, reasons to continue to use might still be there, despite the growing severity in consequences. An adolescent might say that he or she wants to change, but there may be fundamental reasons might promote continued use. Thus, there often lies an enormous amount of ambivalence. The examination and resolution of this ambivalence is the focus of Motivational Interviewing.

It’s clear that if a teen is relapsing, then there are circumstances that continue to feed the destructive cycle of addiction. Motivational Interviewing along with addressing all the contributing factors can facilitate breaking through the cycle of addiction and finding long-term sobriety.


“Addiction Treatment Placement: Chronic Relapse Treatment and Family Addiction” Outreach Services. Retrieved on June 10, 2014 from: