What Parents Can Do If They Notice Signs of a Relapse in Their Recovering Teen

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Having a teenager in this day and age is hard work. As a parent, there are so many things to think about as your child begins to move into high school and beyond. You worry about him driving, whether or not he fits in, if he’ll do his homework and how peer pressure will affect him.

Sadly, a lot of teens these days turn to drugs and alcohol at a young age. When your child experiments with drugs and winds up addicted, it can be a very disheartening experience. From there, all you can do is try your best to support him in getting the help he needs.

teen info graphic

If you’re lucky enough to get your teen into treatment and recovery, the next phase is helping him remain sober.

This is no easy task. It takes patience and empathy to support a teenager who has battled addiction.

As parents, it’s important to be as educated as possible about the potential for relapse. Here’s what to look for and how to respond if you suspect your teen has relapsed.

What Are the Signs of Relapse?

The first thing you should understand about relapse is that it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process that builds up over time in three stages: emotional, mental and physical.

Relapse usually begins with emotional states that may be very subtle, yet still very triggering. As it moves into the mental stage, your child may think about using or drinking and become aware of these thoughts. Finally, she gives into her emotions and thoughts, and the actual (physical) relapse occurs.

Relapse signs to watch out for include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anger or frustration
  • Mood changes or irritability
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Isolation and not being social with friends
  • Withdrawing and disengaging from family gatherings
  • Verbally romanticizing about using, saying things like she wishes she could take the edge off or it would be nice to escape
  • Demonstrating shaky behaviors, such as being dishonest or wanting to hang out with old friends you’ve identified as bad influences
  • Asking to visit places that may be a trigger, such as concerts, music festivals or house parties
  • Rationalizing or displaying extreme confidence, perhaps saying she’s okay now and “has things under control”

Keep in mind that the stages and signs of relapse are like dominoes that can quickly lead your child into a place where she picks up substances again because she’s built it up in her mind as the right thing to do.

What Should You Do If You Notice Signs of a Relapse in Your Recovering Teen?

First of all, don’t just assume that, once your child enters into recovery or returns from treatment, all is well and the addiction is over.

Recovery is a daily practice and needs ongoing monitoring. This means you need to keep a very close eye on your teen and maintain open lines of communication.

If your child begins to show signs of relapse, it can be frightening and overwhelming, as you may not be sure how to handle it. The best thing to do is remain calm while you work through your valid concerns. Start by realizing that you are not helpless and can head off a relapse before it happens.

Next, take action by speaking candidly to your teenager. Ask him how he feels, what kinds of thoughts he’s having and how you can support him. This step can be tricky, as you don’t want to interrogate him or make him feel like you’re angry with him. Take a non-aggressive approach by initiating a healthy conversation with your teen about what’s going on so you can work together to find a resolution.

It’s also a good idea to involve a therapist trained in recovery aftercare or speak to your teen’s treatment center about aftercare services it offers.

“One of the biggest changes in our lives has been the repairing of relationships within our family.” – Katie D. shares on her daughters recovery journey with Heroes in Recovery.

Often, relapse signs mean your teen may not be integrating back into normal life as easily as he had hoped and may be struggling to find a sense of routine or comfort.

Stay active in encouraging him, and be as compassionate to his needs as possible. Remember, your recovering teen can always get back on track, return to recovery and seek more help if he needs it, as long as you stay vigilant.

Carly Benson, a writer for The Life Challenge
As an avid traveler, yogi & confessed self-help junkie, Carly writes about her adventures in life & sobriety on www.MiraclesAreBrewing.com where she offers inspirational concepts & coaching for recovery, faith & living an intentional life.

Guest blog posts are welcome additions to the content on this website. Guest blog posts represent the views, opinions and experiences of the author and do not necessarily represent Our Young Addicts. Together, we provide parents and professionals with a variety of perspectives and information.

©2017 Our Young Addicts          All Right Reserved

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Still Letting Go

Midwestern Mama shares a poem that provides comfort and affirmation as her son begins a new in-patient treatment program.

The first time my son went to treatment, he ran away on day No. 9. It was no surprise, but still it was devastating. Six and a half years later, he’s back at treatment following a relapse after a few years of sobriety and recovery. It’s his third time at an in-patient, residential program. He’s also participated in three high-intensity out-patient programs.

Once again, we are letting go knowing we have brought him to a place that is his to embrace.

In a small book called House Blessings – Prayers, Poems, and Toasts Celebrating Home and Family, I found a poem during those terrifying days of 2011 called, “Letting Go.” It was as relevant then as it is today.

Letting Go by Sandra E. McBride

I’ve brought you to the mountain … the climb is yours.

I’ve brought you to the shore … the sea is yours.

I’ve brought you to the sky … the wings are yours.

I’ve brought you through the shadows … the light is yours.

I’ve brought you to this day … tomorrow yours.

Midwestern Mama

©2017 Our Young Addicts          All Rights Reserved

Car Keys

It’s been a long, long week*. A week ago Friday, our son left and we didn’t hear from him until he walked back in the house the following Friday morning.

He was cold and his hands were shaking as he held out his car keys and wallet, asking, “Would you hold onto these for awhile?”.

This was followed by hugs and a brief conversation. Then he took a warm shower, made himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, took the dog for a walk, and settled in for a long nap followed by another walk with the dog.

Here’s hoping this week brings clarity and positive steps forward.

*Read The Third R blog post for details.

Midwestern Mama

©2017 Our Young Addicts          All Rights Reserved

 

 

The Third R

An update from Midwestern Mama on #SoberSon and his recent Return to Use aka Relapse.

Ordinarily when I think R & R, it conjures up the concept of rest and relaxation. However, when it comes to addiction and mental health, the R words that I think of are Relapse and Recovery. Oh, and there’s one more: Ready.

2017 has been a struggle for my son. He’s maintained sobriety from opiate use, but began using cannabis and drinking alcohol again. He thinks of it as self medicating, yet his mental health is suffering, not improving.

It came to a head this summer. To top it off, he decided to stop taking Suboxone – almost cold turkey instead of a slow taper with support from his treatment team. The effect is terrible. He’s irritable and agitated. The cravings are strong. Anxiety and depression are ever present and getting worse.

“I feel great. Everything is good. Never felt better,” he tells us. But we know better, and so does the dog. (Read my recent posts, The Dog Knows and The Birthday Cake.)

Last week he admitted that things aren’t working and that he hadn’t anticipated the impact of going off Suboxone. To his credit, he made an appointment with a mental-health professional and decided to go on an anti-depressant. Of course, they counseled him about the risks of using marijuana and alcohol while taking the medication.

No more than a few days into the new approach, he left one morning and didn’t come home later in the day to get ready for work. He didn’t go to work that evening. He didn’t come home that night. He didn’t respond to text messages or phone calls. The next day, he didn’t show up at home or work, and still wasn’t responding to outreach. His medication was on his dresser. The day after that, he still hadn’t made contact – with us or with any of his friends.

He’s 25 – an adult. We give him space and let him take responsibility for his life and decisions. In years past, he reacted terribly when we intervened claiming we were overreacting – that’s the addiction talking.

In the three years he’s been in recovery from opiate use, he’s never missed work. He’s always kept us posted on his whereabouts and work schedule. He’s always let us know if he was going to stay at friends for the evening.

Given this, you can imagine our concern and worry. This behavior was out of the ordinary. Where was he? Had something tragic happened?

Through the grapevine, we learned he texted a co-worker that he’d been picked up for public intoxication and was being taken to detox. Two days later he texted the co-worker, “I’m out :)”.

It’s concerning, but we are grateful he’s alive. Now, we’re wondering what is next.

It’s now been another 24 hours and he hasn’t come home or responded to our outreach.

In our hearts, we know he’s hurting and we know he’s resistant to help – always wanting to do it “on his own.”

We don’t take it personally. We’re not mad. We’re not going to yell at him or lecture him. We’re simply concerned and want to be supportive. We want to have communication. We want to have him in our lives. We want him to come home.

This all reminds me of the earlier days of his addiction journey, which further reminds me that recovery is possible and available to him, again, when he is ready.

Ready. That’s the third R, and that’s the one I want most for #SoberSonNotRightNow

MWM

©2017 Our Young Addicts          All Rights Reserved

#TBT – Not Using is Not the Same as Recovering – Relapse in the Making

In spring 2012, Midwestern Mama’s son was not using, but he wasn’t exactly embracing treatment, sobriety or recovery. Here is a column where she explores the concerning pattern, which repeated itself many times through many relapses.

A Real Mom – Not using isn’t same as recovering 3-19-12

Fortunately, in 2014 and continuing forward, my son has embraced sobriety and recovery in a much more encouraging way. We have transitioned from hope to belief!

School’s Out for Summer – Overcoming Addiction

After a successful return to college, Midwestern Mama’s son is taking a break from classes this summer with plans to return in the fall. Without the structure and routine of classes, homework and studying, how will he spend his time this summer?

School's Out for Summer

Three things have undermined my son’s experience with overcoming addiction: time on his hands, boredom and money. When one or more of these has been present, his drug use would take control. Now, 10 months sober he is learning to work through these- even though summer without college classes could present a challenge.

During Addiction:

Time: When very little interests you, even amid commitments like school, sports and a part-time job, you end up with a lot of time on your hands. When you no longer have to go to school and you don’t have sports or a job, then you sit around a lot. Sitting around leads to boredom.

Boredom: More than anything, my son has been living with boredom most of his life. Before drugs, he would easily get bored even with seemingly exciting things to engage his interest. No matter what, I can’t solve this for him. Even in his sobriety, not much interests him. He craves excitement, yet nothing ever seems to capture his attention for long.

He cites boredom as one of the main reasons he was curious to try marijuana as a teenager. It wasn’t peer pressure or wanting to fit it; it was curiosity. For a while, it certainly seemed that marijuana was his interest, his obsession really. Until, it wasn’t and then he was on to other drugs like opiates. Until, it was addiction and consequences, which controlled his ability or ambition to stop.

Money: From the time he was a little kid, money burned a hole in his pocket. At first, it was altruistically – putting all his birthday money in the donation jar at the zoo. Later, it was impulsively for instant gratification – buying a game or toy immediately and discovering it wasn’t as much fun as he thought it was going to be.

During addiction, having money from a part-time job meant he could fund his habit instead of saving for college (even though that wasn’t the agreement). Getting a tax refund meant, spending it on drugs. Getting gift cards meant selling these for drugs.

During Sobriety & Recovery:

Since going through treatment last summer and committing to sobriety and recovery during the past 10 months, he’s successfully addressed two out of three of these items – time on his hands and money.

Time: The treatment program plus part-time college classes and part-time job have filled his time while still allowing him the downtime that he needs to get through each day. However, with school out, he now has four days a week where he doesn’t have a time commitment. He’d like to increase his work schedule to cover the available hours and to earn more money for things like tuition in the fall and buying a car.

Money: The part-time job has helped him pay off debts incurred during addiction and has given him spending cash to buy some new clothes, get presents for family members on their birthdays, go to a movie, etc. Because he has set some goals such as school in the fall and getting a car, he seems more committed to saving money instead of spending it as impulsively as in the past.

Boredom: This remains the kicker. He still goes through the motions without a lot of zest or interest – save for the family dog. He doesn’t have much of a social life. This is the piece that’s been on my mind. At least with school schedule over the past semester, he had built in commitment and now he’s just got the part-time job …which means could have time on this hands and money … which means????

Time will tell. We’ve had a few conversations about the new routine. In the past, these conversations would have gone nowhere, and although I don’t have a sense what what’s going to happen I am more confident than ever before that he’s aware of the triggers and will come through with a plan that works for him. Silly me, I just wish I knew what it was! #SoberSummer

Midwestern Mama

P.S. Just as we headed into the Memorial Day weekend, my son completed an application to transfer from community college to a bachelor’s degree program at a local university. In doing so, he had to secure a transcript (albeit a blank one) from the college he briefly attended after high school; there was a hold on his account due to a fine for underage drinking and for possession of marijuana in the dorms – one of the pivotal lows of his addiction and the one that got him kicked out. Now four and a half years later, he paid this and signed up for extra hours at work to cover the expense. How far he’s come this year!

Let #Gratitude2014 Continue!

Midwestern Mama recaps the past week of #Gratitude2014 posts. 

At this time last year, our son was in desperate shape, and it was getting worse.  At age 21, he was several years into drug addiction, and he was homeless, penniless and jobless.  He was, however, softening to the idea of treating his depression and anxiety, and a wise, young counselor directed him toward in-patient dual-diagnosis treatment as the first course of action. Fortunately, when funding became available and a bed opened up, our son went and this time he stuck it out for the recommended time.  While a terrible relapse occurred a few months after that, he got back to treatment and recovery this summer.  As you can imagine, the transformation and positive possibilities ahead fill us with gratitude.

Here are some of the things I’ve identified this past week as part of Our Young Addicts “30 Days of Gratitude.”

Day 13: I am grateful that my son is starting to open up with us about his feelings and experiences.

Day 14: I am grateful for the opportunity to share my story with you.

Day 15: I am grateful that my son has nutritious food, a warm bed, a clean shower and fresh clothes these days.

Day 16: I am grateful that we recognized our son’s struggle and did everything we could to get him help, even though he resisted.

Day 17: I am grateful that my son’s siblings are a strong support system for him.

Day 18: I am grateful that my son is building a sober network of friends even though social anxiety makes it difficult.

Day 19: I am grateful that we are part of our son’s recovery, now and forever.

Day 20: I am grateful for all the stories that others have shared with me and the encouragement offered.

Please join us in looking for gratitude even in the darkest days.  Keep hoping and praying, and know that there is a community that cares.

Midwestern Mama

A Day-By-Day Gratitude Journal

Midwestern Mama continues 30 days of gratitude, days 7 to 12.  What a delight to find there is something to be grateful for every day! 

Each day as I think about what to post during 30 Days of Gratitude, it is becoming easier and easier to identify the good things.  Even in the depths of my son’s addiction, I would take time each day to give thanks for what was good.  Call it praying, call it meditation, call it whatever you want — pure and simple it is an “attitude of gratitude” that others would tell me about and that I soon discovered as a powerful way to find strength even in trying times.  Now, when I pause to give thanks, I find my list is growing.

Here are some of the recent things for which I am grateful:

Day 7: I am grateful that we continued to set boundaries for our young addict so that he could find his way to treatment and now to recovery. #Gratitude2014

Day 8: I am grateful to other parents who have shared their experiences with me. Through them, I know there is possibility and hope for our young addicts. #Gratitude2014

Day 9: I am grateful my son is alive, has survived addiction and several relapses. For the past 100-plus days, he is choosing sobriety. #Gratitude2014

Day 10: I am grateful for Our Young Addicts on Twitter and Facebook. #Gratitude2014

Day 11: I am grateful for medication-assisted treatment and recovery, especially Suboxone. #Gratitude2014

Day 12: I am grateful that we are rebuilding trust with our son. #Gratitude2014

With gratitude,

Midwestern Mama

The New Normal

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One month into treatment, Midwestern Mama contemplates the new normal for her son and family.

The first time I heard the descriptor “The New Normal,” it was in economic terms referring to how families were faring in 2009. I understand that more recently there was a short-lived television series with this title about gender and families.

Whatever its origin and original intent, it’s an expression that seems to capture our family’s connection to addiction and recovery. Ironically, this coincides with the timing when it first manifested for us. Since then, we’ve accepted and adapted to many new normals. If you’ve been reading this blog or any of my other writings, patterns emerging as the new normal and the next new normal and the next one after that … these have been the mainstay of our family experience.

More recently, we’ve been party to yet another new normal – treatment and recovery. At the end of 2013 and early part of 2014, we got a preview of what this might entail. Then, in a blink, it all unraveled. Our son’s immediate and lower-than-ever-before relapse hit. It hit hard, for all of us.

We met this new normal with the same resolve as times past, yet something was very different, and thankfully so.

So what is it like to parent a young adult who is earnestly participating in treatment and recovery? It’s far from anything we’ve experienced to date. Will it be the be-all, end -all? I can’t answer that, but I do know it is laying the strongest foundation for ongoing and future success than we’ve seen. The experts are just as good as the experts we’ve been fortunate to work with in the past, but this time it seems to be the right experts at the right time.

What’s different? Our son. He truly seems to want this. Not for us, but for himself. It’s not something we could have made him want, although we’ve certainly tried to influence, encourage and support it. I encourage every parent to keep trying, no matter what but to not drive yourself nuts when it doesn’t turn out like you want it to. In due time, in due time.

So what else is different? He is slowly and selectively reconnecting with former friends who are not addicts and who he’s been honest with and that support his efforts without being in his face about it. These friends accept it and applaud him, but not in a way that makes him feel self conscious. Having a social component has given him a positive outlet for his energy and interests. Too much treatment, too much recovery, is an overload. Having an outlet to just be a 22-year-old is extremely important.

What else? Suboxone, a medication that curbs cravings, negates the ability to get high, and offsets withdrawal symptoms for opiate use. It’s not without its downside, but for now the upside seems to be worth it. (Downsides: It’s daily trips to the clinic for at least the first 90 days before he can get take-home doses. This eliminates being able to go out of town for family vacation this summer. It means having transportation available. It causes constipation, which of course, the heroin did too. It initially messed with his sleep pattern. It generally requires a long-term commitment. There’s conflicting research on the benefits and precautions, but overall, it seems to be just what he needs now and is making an immediate and noticeable difference.)

Our new normal impacts the whole family, but it is such a welcome change. We have a long way to go to reestablish trust, communication and to support our son toward independence, but for now I just hope he can stick with it. Each day with it, is a day stronger. For all of us.

We’ve been waiting and praying for The New Normal. Now we are here, embracing this stage and optimistic for the next new normal and the one after that. I guess that’s normal, too.

As parents and families, we are often ready long before our young addicts are ready. In my own exploration and effort to understand addiction, I was encouraged by many of the writings of Buddha. In particular, the blessing of a good guide and for the readiness and willingness to let the guide to their job, while I did mine. Until I was ready, it was going nowhere. When I got ready, WOW!

It seems the same enlightenment is starting to happen for my son.

Midwestern Mama

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
Buddha

Every time I buy more bagels …

Breakfast food is among my favorite. I like bacon and eggs, in particular, just about any time of day. My young addict likes eggs, but not bacon. He doesn’t care much for cereal. He’s usually not hungry until an hour or so after he wakes up. When he was still in high school, his go-to meal was a bagel and cream cheese. We kept these in bulk so he always had quick, easy and nutritious meal available.

Our remaining at-home kiddo is more of a frozen waffle person. He toasts these and eat waffles for breakfast just about every day. So, of course, we keep these in good supply. He likes bagels all right, but with his braces, a bagel is a bit more difficult to bite and chew, so waffles are a better bet.

As a mom, I think about breakfast a lot. That’s what you do as a parent. You make sure there is always a breakfast option so everyone can start the day off with that all-important fortification.

Although our young addict has intermittently lived at home – or spent some nights here — these past several years, his not a regular resident and my grocery-shopping reflects this; I hardly, if ever, load the cart with bagels and cream cheese. And, then he shows up and the refrigerator might as well be bare because there are no bagels, no cream cheese.

Right before he started drug treatment in December, our young addict was staying with us for a few nights. We bought some bagels and cream cheese. The very next day, he got a call from the treatment center that a bed had opened up two weeks earlier than anticipated. That morning, he smeared some cream cheese on a bagel and we made the 40-mile trek to treatment. For the next 50-odd days, the remaining five bagels and opened package of cream cheese sat in my refrigerator … until I decided the freshness date had expired and tossed these out.

Since completing treatment and then starting and then quitting his half-way program against staff recommendation, our young addict was immediately homeless again, back using, and sofa surfing at the homes of his former drug buddies.

Ever concerned, we’ve reached out to him to encourage returning to a treatment and recovery program. As always, he’s denying that he’s using and resisting any help. Even though we know otherwise on the using. Even though we know that staying at home may be a form of enabling.

All the same, we know he needs a safe place and some good food so he can possibly think more clearly. Last Tuesday, we said he could stay the night and that we’d get him to work the next day. We brought up out-patient counseling. He said, “Maybe.”

After a few days, he was better rested, better fed (including bagels and cream cheese) and had a better attitude. We were working together as a team. He said he had a plan. We said we were proud, that we would support that, that he could stay in the interim as he was pursuing a recovery program.

Yet, we knew better, and when his work week wrapped up and he had three days off before his next shift, and headed out the door to hang with his heroin and pot-smoking “friends” that it wasn’t likely that he’d be with us for breakfast the next morning. (My only hope, and this is admittedly grim, is that I hope he will be back because every time he uses, I know that it’s possibly, even increasingly, a fatal outcome. Yes, I am bracing myself for that even as I remain ever hopeful, ever optimistic, ever realistic, ever, ever, ever … believing that one day he will be sober and healthy, instead of intoxicated and dying.)

In fact, we knew he wouldn’t be home that night. We knew he wouldn’t call or text letting us know that he wasn’t coming back. We knew he wouldn’t respond when we reached out. We knew he wasn’t having a phone interview the next day with a sober house; just one of the well-intentioned promises he appeases us with that becomes a well-worn, well rehearsed and routine lie. We knew that he couldn’t meet the sober-house requirements of a minimum of 30 days sober and with a letter of recommendation from his halfway house, another well-intentioned action that he couldn’t act upon.

So, here we are. I’ve got a half-full bag of bagels in the refrigerator and a couple more bags in the freezer; the cream cheese is half gone with a couple more packs in the deli drawer. We are ready for his homecoming. Every time I buy more bagels, anticipating that we’re turning in a positive direction, the cycle begins again.

My prediction is he will call tomorrow because his work clothes are here and he will want to come shower and change. Will we offer him a bed to sleep in when his shift is done? Will he want to stay here that night? I don’t know, but he’ll probably have a bagel and cream cheese if he does show up.

Inspired by my cohort, Mid Atlantic Mom, I’ll wrap up this blog post with a quotation: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.”

Midwestern Mama

Where’s the reset button? It’s time to reboot.

Techie or not, most of us know that when something electronic is not working that hitting the reset button – rebooting – is often the best thing to do.  Amateurs and professionals alike suggest it as a first course of action.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

It got me thinking that we have hit the reset button and attempted to reboot many times since addiction started messing with our son’s wiring.  Research on drugs and alcohol continues to show substantial, detrimental impact on the brain – a complex network of wiring and chemicals – even when used recreationally.  So, it seems like the computer analogy applies when a loved one is affected by chronic substance use and its various repercussions.

Within a few days of leaving his recovery program – early, against their recommendations and without a solid plan in place — my son reverted to his previous coping mechanisms and behavior patterns.  It’s now been about five weeks and what I’m observing is not very encouraging.  It’s downright sad.

When a loved one has gone haywire, it feels like it’s time to  is an attempt to do just that: to push the reset button, to reboot. However, the only buttons to which we have access are our own.  Hard as it is, the only reboot button that I can push is my own.

Midwestern Mama