Learn about the risk of teen relapse during the summer and how you can help prevent it.

Summer is an important time for teens who have successfully completed rehab and are focused on relapse prevention. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that teen drug use increases significantly during the summer, especially in the months of June and July. Teen recovery may be affected by the same factors that influence this marked increase in drug use.

The summer months afford teenagers more free time due to school being out. During this time, they will have more time to spend with friends or engage in other activities that are not as structured as school. This increase in free time can lead to boredom or increased amounts of unsupervised time with friends, increasing the risk of relapse.

While there is a higher-than-normal risk of relapse during these months, there are several actions that can reduce a teen’s chances of relapsing and ensure that they have a sober summer.

Keep Your Teen Busy

For teenagers who have completed a rehab program, summer boredom can be a risk factor for relapsing. Bored teenagers might try to find something that will fill their time and alleviate the boredom, including relapsing into substance-use again or spending time with people who negatively influence their behavior.

Several actions can help alleviate the boredom that can be experienced by your teen during the summer, including:

  • Holding a summer job: Encourage the teen to look into and apply for teen summer jobs. Having a job over the summer will provide them with a constructive way to use their time and help them be productive, raising their self-esteem by providing them with a feeling of accomplishment and productiveness.
  • Going on a family vacation: A family vacation can both remove a teen from their familiar environment where they may be more likely to relapse and will provide them with something to help occupy their time.
  • Attending a summer camp: Sending a teen to a summer camp can provide them with a healthy environment where they can spend time pursuing a passion while avoiding boredom.

Foster a Support System

Create a support system for teens during the summer months, especially for teens in recovery. For teens, substance abuse may start because of peer pressure and negative influences in their lives.

Help them by not only removing the influences that could pressure them into resuming substance use but by replacing this negativity with a positive support system. A teen support group can consist of:

  • Positive role models
  • Mentors
  • Friends that will be supportive of recovery and will not encourage substance use
  • The teen’s family (immediate and extended)

Especially with solid family support, addiction recovery treatment is more likely to be successful long after rehab ends.

While forming a support system will be helpful, someone could also consider using a substance abuse support group. This group can allow teens who have completed rehab and their parents to meet with others who are in similar situations and support each other during this point in the recovery process.

Find a Sober Summer Camp

During the summer, teens who have completed rehab or are needing rehab may benefit from a teen rehab camp. This type of rehab camp for young adults will provide them with an environment where they can spend some of their summer free time with those their own age who have similar backgrounds and struggles to their own. By allowing the teens to build relationships with others who are facing similar struggles, these camps can help to provide a support system that lasts both at camp and beyond.

Besides providing an excellent support system, rehab camps also remove teens from their familiar environment and friends that could be likely to pressure them into relapsing. By providing time away from their normal environment, rehab camps provide teens with the chance to better recover without the temptations that are normally available to them. Rehab camps also provide activities that will help to promote friendship with fellow campers and decrease boredom that could be experienced in the summer.

Make Sure They Relax

There is a definite connection between stress and addiction. Frequently, people who have struggled with addiction find that they self-medicate for stress by using the substance that they were addicted to.

Communicate with the teen and see if there are any stressors that may cause them to seek the comfort they believe they could find in substance use. Communication will be the key to figuring out if a teen is truly relaxed or if stress could cause them to relapse.

Promoting relaxation will also help the teen’s mental health. Teen mental health is boosted by relaxation and by avoiding stressors, but it may also be helped by overcoming stress without relapsing. Encouraging them to use coping mechanisms they have learned will help them to deal with stressors without relapsing.

Keep Track of Them

Teen peer pressure is a major factor both in initial substance misuse and in relapse. This negative factor should be avoided, and the importance of peer support in addiction recovery for teenagers cannot be overstated.

Encourage friendships that promote behaviors that will help to maintain sobriety. New friendships will be important, as teens are usually highly social, and cutting off previous friendships might not be successful without establishing new, beneficial friendships.

One aspect to consider when dealing with teen substance abuse is that teens misusing substances are likely to be dishonest about their actions. Teens that have relapsed or are at high risk for relapsing may say what someone wants to hear about plans and activities, but not be completely forthright about their actual activities.

The best way to ensure that a teen is with who they say they are is to check-in at unexpected times with people whom they are going to be around to ensure that a teen is being honest. There is a balance to this though, as after a teen has proved they can be trusted some leeway should be provided. Checking in multiple times each time a teen goes out may be necessary initially, but if they are consistently honest, a high level of monitoring may cause them to become resentful. Find a balance, and check-in with them frequently at the start, with less frequent monitoring over time if they seem to be truthful in their activities.

Signs of Teen Relapse

Relapse warning signs will include some of the same signs of teen substance abuse. Changes in behaviors that occurred when the teen first started using may occur again. These changes in behavior are unique to each teen; some may seem happier and more relaxed, while others may be more uptight and agitated.

Knowing the changes in behavior that a teen initially experienced will provide parents with information on what to look for to see if a relapse has occurred. Symptoms of relapse could include:

  • Changes in behavior
  • Poor performance at school or their summer job
  • Missing activities
  • Dishonesty
  • Poor hygiene
  • Secretiveness
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Agitation or anger when asked about substance use
  • Spending time with friends who misuse substances

After completing teen drug rehab, a relapse or two is not necessarily uncommon. Many who have completed a teen addiction treatment relapse as part of lifelong recovery. A parent’s key goals for helping a teen who has completed a rehab program should be to support them in avoiding relapse and to recognize the signs of relapse as soon as it occurs. By promoting sobriety and recognizing relapse you can provide your teen with the best possible chance of achieving a full recovery from their addiction.

If you believe that your teen may have relapsed or are interested in enrolling them in a rehab summer camp to help them maintain their sobriety, The Recovery Village is here for you. Reach out to one of our understanding staff members to learn about the resources available for your teen’s struggle with addictions. 

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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. Anna Pickering, PhD
Dr. Anna Pickering has a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology. Anna works as a medical writer. She grew up in Oregon, where she developed a love for science, nature, and writing. Read more

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health. “Monthly Variation in Substance Use Initi[…]on among Adolescents.” July 2, 2012. Accessed June 22, 2019.

Reinberg, Steven. “Summer Is Peak Time for Teens to Try Drugs, Alcohol: Report.” HealthDay, July 3, 2012. Accessed June 14, 2019.

Bennett, Carole. “The 4 Most Common Causes of Addiction Relapse.” LIFE – Huffington Post. Dec. 1, 2011. Accessed June 22, 2019.

Sober College School of Addiction Studies. “No Fun in the Sun: Why Teen Drug Use Rises in Summer.” June 1, 2016. Accessed June 14, 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.