Have you and your family been impacted by your teen’s struggle with addiction? Learn how to best support your teen on their road to recovery and how to be an active participant in their treatment.

Addiction is a difficult disease for anyone to face, especially teenagers. A teen who struggles with addiction may experience negative psychological, physical and emotional effects of substance use. 

Addiction can also impact family, friends, acquaintances, teachers and others who play important roles in a teenager’s life. Teen addiction can be particularly challenging to treat and can develop for a variety of reasons. Some of these include:

  • Peer pressure to try alcohol and other substances
  • Personal issues like their parents getting a divorce or a sudden death in the family 
  • Societal or parental pressures, like being forced to go to college to become a doctor
  • Biological, behavioral and psychological changes that come after puberty 
  • High-stress levels
  • Preexisting mental health conditions
  • Experiencing childhood abuse or trauma 
  • Lack of parental supervision
  • Lack of discipline or structure growing up
  • One or more parents that have a dependency on alcohol or other drugs

One of the most critical features of successful substance abuse treatment is developing and maintaining a strong support system. If parents have a positive relationship with their child, then it may be advantageous to have family involvement in their teen’s addiction treatment. 

Since addiction is highly personal, it is important to realize that a teenager should maintain some agency when it comes to who they want involved, and to what degree, on their road to recovery. However, if a teenager is not legally emancipated and is under the age of 18, it is likely that their parent or guardian must make difficult choices for them. 

Teen Addiction Treatment

Teen addiction treatment is slightly different from adult treatment in that teenagers may not have as much choice as their adult counterparts. It also should be noted that most addiction treatments are based on adult treatment regimens, rather than based on teenage models. 

Despite these limitations, teen rehab can be extremely effective. How can a family member or loved one determine if their teen is addicted to alcohol or other substances? A teen experiencing addiction may exhibit certain signs, including:

  • Irregular physical, behavioral or psychological changes 
  • Lying about who they are spending time with or what they are doing
  • Fighting with loved ones and friends
  • Changes in sleep
  • Changes in appetite 
  • New groups of friends
  • No longer fulfilling responsibilities at school or home
  • Sudden mood swings not associated with a mental health condition like bipolar disorder

While it may be very obvious to some parents that their teen has developed an addiction, other teens may hide their addiction from family members and others. In either case, treatment is necessary. 

Is an Intervention Necessary?

Even though a teen struggling with addiction may need treatment, getting them to agree to treatment or acknowledge that they need help can be extremely challenging. Sometimes, a teen intervention is necessary and will be very similar to interventions held with adults. How does an intervention work in cases involving teenagers?

There are many different intervention types that target adolescents and teenagers. Some interventions can be very personal and involve a teenager and their family members only, while other interventions are less personal and involve many people. Some common intervention types for teenagers include:

  • School-based interventions
  • Digital anti-substance use campaigns (e.g., commercials on television or social media)
  • Family or community interventions
  • Policy interventions
  • Offering incentives not to use drugs or substances 
  • A combination of various interventions into one multi-component intervention

If parents or guardians choose to have a family intervention for their teenager, they might consider having a drug intervention specialist present during the intervention. A drug intervention specialist will help ensure that everyone’s voice is heard, including family members and the teenager struggling with addiction. They also moderate the conversation so that it remains positive and productive rather than accusatory or unproductive. 

The overall goal of a teen intervention is to state that treatment is the only path forward (or face dire consequences) and for the person to acknowledge that they have an addiction. 

Should You Be Involved in the Treatment Process?

Should parents be involved in the treatment process with their teenager? This is a subjective question. Sometimes, a teenager’s family dynamic is negative, abusive or unstable. In these cases, they would not likely benefit from having their parents or guardians present during this deeply personal and difficult time. 

However, for teenagers who have a positive relationship with their parents or guardians, family support is one of the most important features in addiction treatment. Having support while in recovery — whether from friends, family, mentors, teachers or others struggling with addiction — can be beneficial for treating teen substance abuse. 

The treatment period can be extremely isolating for all parties involved. Teenagers and their families must realize that they are not alone when it comes to addiction. 

How to Get Involved

If teenagers have expressed that they would like their family or loved ones involved in their recovery, then healthy roles and boundaries must be firmly established right away. Consistency is key during a person’s recovery. 

How much of a role a parent has in their child’s recovery is dependent on whether this relationship is positive or negative. Unfortunately, sometimes parents, guardians or loved ones may have good intentions but they are hindering, versus helping, their teen’s recovery. It is important for loved ones to realize what supportive versus enabling behaviors look like.

Two predominant behaviors that parents often adopt unintentionally is the role of the enabler, or the role of the co-dependent when interacting with their teen. A parent may enable their teen’s addiction by allowing their teen to continue their addictive behaviors, by lying or covering for them or by providing them consistent cash flow, despite the negative consequences for everyone. 

A parent with codependency issues may hinder their teen’s recovery because they allow their teen to continue self-destructive behaviors in hopes of making sure their teen does not abandon them or leave them behind, regardless of the toll it takes on themselves or their immediate family. Both of these behavioral issues must be addressed in family members who want to help their teen recover from addiction. 

Family-Based Treatment

There are numerous teen addiction treatment options that allow family members the opportunity to be involved in their child’s recovery. Most of these therapies involve a setting that includes family members, a therapist and the teen. 

The overall goal of family-based treatment is to allow everyone to have a voice, to provide positive reinforcement for their teen and to teach families how to stop codependent and enabling behaviors. Family addiction counseling also allows loved ones to have an active, rather than passive, role in their teen’s addiction treatment. 

There may be underlying issues that need to be addressed (besides their child’s addiction) that will improve the overall family dynamic, including open and honest communication. 

  • Brief strategic family therapy: Brief strategic family therapy involves efforts to rebuild or build relationships among all family members. The goal is to understand each person’s behavioral patterns relative to one another and how to change any negative behavioral patterns once they are recognized. 
  • Family behavior therapy: Family behavioral therapy involves efforts to facilitate a discussion between a teen and their loved ones about the best treatment options for the teen. Additionally, specific goals and their corresponding rewards are agreed upon by both parties. If the teen achieves that goal, they get the agreed-upon reward at the next session. 
  • Functional family therapy: Functional family therapy involves efforts to dissect the family dynamic, to recognize and modify negative behaviors and to develop a conflict resolution skill set for all family members. 
  • Multidimensional family therapy: Multidimensional family therapy involves efforts to foster a collaborative family environment as well as to incorporate systems outside of the family (e.g., school system and the legal system). The overall goal is to improve upon the relationships with the teen, their family, and their community. 
  • Multisystemic family therapy: Multisystemic family therapy involves efforts to legitimize why a teen’s addictive behaviors are negative and the far-reaching implications of this behavior. The overall goal is for the teen to understand their addiction in the context of their family, friends and their community. 

Does My Teen Need Addiction Treatment?

Does your teen need treatment for addiction? There are many different evidence-based treatments for addiction including individual, family and group therapy. It may be challenging to identify if your teen is addicted to a substance. 

If you are unsure of whether your teen struggles with addiction, these quizzes can help you get a better idea of their risk of addiction:

However, for those teens who are aware of their addiction to alcohol or other drugs, they can purposefully choose to pursue addiction recovery. Acknowledgment is a powerful first step toward recovery. 

Does your teen struggle with addiction? Are you unsure of how you can help them? Are they unwilling to enter treatment? Reach out to a representative at The Recovery Village to discuss how to encourage your teen to enter treatment, the best treatment options for your teen and how you can support them on their road to recovery.

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Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Bonnie Bullock, PHD
Bonnie is a medical communications specialist at Boston Strategic Partners, a global health industry consulting firm. Her recent work in mental health includes developing conference materials for clinical studies in mood disorders and copy-editing clinical manuscripts. Read more

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Das, Jai; et al. “Interventions for Adolescent Substance A[…]f Systematic Reviews.” The Journal of Adolescent Health, October 2016. Accessed June 18, 2019.

Hammond, Christopher; Mayes, Linda; Potenza, Marc. “Neurobiology of Adolescent Substance Use[…]eatment Implications.” Adolescent medicine: state of the art reviews, April 2014. Accessed June 18, 2019.

Indian Health Service: The Federal Health Program for American Indians and Alaska Natives. “Warning Signs of Drug Abuse and Addiction.” (n.d.) Accessed June 18, 2019.

Silvers, JA; Squeglia, LM; Thomsen, Romer; Hudson, KA; Feldstein, Ewing. “Hunting for What Works: Adolescents in Addiction Treatment.” Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research, April 2019. Accessed June 18, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.