Many adolescents in recovery need extra support during the first few weeks of school as they navigate the academic and social pressures that can impact their sobriety.

When a teen has done the hard work of recovery from substance use disorder and achieved abstinence for an extended period, the thought of returning to school may be a scary proposition. Teen addiction is an increasingly significant problem. Relapse prevention for teens is key for those who are maintaining recovery during the difficult transition back to school.

Back to School Relapse Triggers

Part of teen relapse prevention is recognizing relapse triggers. While there isn’t a “one-size fits all” explanation for why teens get addicted to drugs, being able to understand and cope with triggers for substance use is a step toward recovery and health.

Possible back to school relapse triggers include:

  • School Stress: Substance abuse among teens can stem from the pressures of school stress. Academic demands and intense course work can contribute to the temptation to use substance abuse as an escape from stress. 
  • Peer Pressure: Teens that use drugs have likely experienced peer pressure regarding substance use. It is important to talk to teens about drugs and create a plan to help them avoid being pressured to start using again.
  • Environmental Triggers: Spending time in places where they previously used drugs or seeing friends they’ve used drugs with can trigger relapse

Teen Relapse Rates

Substance abuse in high school is prevalent. Teen drug use and alcohol abuse are on the rise, which can make it even more challenging for teens in recovery to stay on the right track. Relapse rates average at 40–60% for those in recovery, and unfortunately the rate of relapse for teens in recovery is even higher. Teen relapse prevention is crucial to help teens maintain sobriety and withstand the pressures to use that they’ll inevitably face at school.

Teen Addiction Relapse Warning Signs

Signs of relapse in drug addiction can vary, but there are common symptoms that many people display. A change in attitude, increased stress, behavioral changes and withdrawal from supportive friends and family members are often relapse warning signs. Teen addiction can be particularly challenging because of a teen’s exposure to others who may be using, limited ability to avoid peer pressure and other social stressors present in the closed environment of a school setting.

Teaching Teens to Cope

Teen substance abuse prevention is an important front line defense in the effort to avoid substance use disorder. Teens can benefit from learning healthy coping skills and techniques to manage difficult emotions. Substance abuse treatment for teens can offer psychoeducation about triggers as well as strategies to manage urges to use. The more tools a teen can have in their recovery, the better. 

The rate of substance abuse in high school students is on the rise, but with the right intervention and support, teens can and do recover from addiction. Parents can help teens learn to deal with stress through exercise, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing and yoga. Teens may find that accessing online meditation videos or apps can help build skills to avoid substance use. Teens also need to have someone safe to talk to. Parents who strive to be approachable, supportive and nonjudgmental about their teen’s recovery will likely create a more open environment for honest conversation.

A Safe Start to School

It is important that teens, parents and school staff are aware of teen addiction issues. Drug addiction in high school is at a critical point at which prevention and early intervention are necessary to help teens stay healthy. 

Teen substance abuse counseling is available for those who struggle with addiction. Parents can help teens become more aware of triggers for use and alternative coping strategies to strengthen their recovery. Services for teens are available in many schools and medical practices, as well as addiction recovery centers that support mental health and substance abuse issues, such as The Recovery Village. No one should have to face addiction alone. Allow one of our trained professionals to assist you in finding help for your teen today.

Megan Hull
Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
Paula Holmes
Medically Reviewed By – Paula Holmes, LCSW
Paula Holmes is a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist and freelance writer who lives and works in midcoast Maine. She received her master's degree in Social Work in 2008 from the University of Maine. Read more

Sack, David, MD. “Preventing Relapse Among Addicted Youth.” Psychology Today, December 19, 2013. Accessed August 9, 2019.

T., Buddy. “Warning Signs of an Alcohol or Drug Relapse.”, July 21, 2019. Accessed August 9, 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.