Teen Chronic Relapse: The Danger of Identifying with Being An Addict

The story of one teen who entered a drug rehab facility during adolescence describes the dangers of what happens when teens identify with being a drug user or addict.


Michael began to merely experiment with marijuana when he got caught selling a joint to his friends in high school. To him, it was no big deal, since his parents also smoked. But eventually as he continued to use the drug, his grades declined and his absence from school increased and school administrators eventually recommended that he participate in a drug rehab center.


Michael, who was 13 at the time, along with the strong encouragement of his parents, finally entered a treatment facility close to his Minnesota home. Yet, Matthew says that his 7 weeks at the facility, which was later determined to be fraudulent, helped to trigger a lifetime of chronic relapse, not just teen chronic relapse. “It was [in rehab] that they told me that I was a drug addict and an alcoholic,” says Matthew. “There was no turning back. The whole event solidified and created this notion in my own mind and in my social status. Who I was, was an alcoholic and drug addict.”


In treatment there were other teens with him who shared their stories of drug use, glamorizing the use of alcohol and drugs. Michael describes his initial experience including questions from other participants, such as “What’s your drug of choice?” which is often followed by, “What’s that like?” The romanticism about drug use contributed to his slow identification with using drugs.


Because teens are so impressionable, they can be vulnerable to the stories and experiences of their peers. However, this is a critical reason for parents to find the right treatment facility for their child, a facility that provides evidenced based treatment and where the focus is on treating the full scope of the addiction.


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.


It should be stated at the start that teen chronic relapse doesn’t mean a he or she 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 chronic relapses before eventually recovering from their addiction. So, although relapse is common, it’s not an obstacle to achieving sobriety. With the right treatment and the readiness of a teen, sobriety can be a long-term experience.