Each September, during National Recovery Month, we celebrate those in recovery from a substance use disorder and the many professionals, families and organizations that support them.

We know that when adolescents or teens are successful in their recovery, statistics show, they tend to maintain their sobriety into adulthood and usually avoid the devastating physical, mental, social and economic effects of long-term, chronic addiction.

The first step to recovery, however, is acknowledging that there is a problem.   

According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, in 2020, at least 1-in-8 teenagers abused illicit substances, 62% of 12th graders had abused alcohol and 50% of teenagers had misused a drug at least once. Between 2016 and 2020, the number of eighth graders who had tried drugs increased by 61%. This comes at a time when we are also seeing record numbers of overdose deaths among both adolescents and adults.

Research shows that adolescents and teens with an attachment disorder are at higher risk for misusing drugs or alcohol.  According to an article on Frontiers in Psychiatry, “insecure attachment is seen as an important risk factor not only for SUD, but also for mental disorders in general. With increasing insecurity, individuals will face more difficulties in regulating emotions and stress….Psychotropic substances then might become attractive as one way to ‘self-medicate’ attachment needs, to regulate emotions, to cope with stress, and to replace relationships.”

While these numbers are sobering and parents of children with attachment issues should be especially vigilant, they should also understand that they can play a powerful role in discouraging substance use and supporting treatment and recovery.

Experts agree, that family support combined with early intervention and access to quality, evidence-based treatment, as well as robust aftercare, are a young person’s best chance for long-term recovery. 

Keys to Recovery

According to “Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research-Based Guide,” produced by the National Institute of Health, cases where treatment is successful and recovery is sustained tend to have certain elements in common. Some of these include:

  • Early evaluation and intervention. It’s important to stay vigilant and take action, even if you aren’t sure that your child has a problem.

  • Access to comprehensive services. Most people with a substance use disorder are also struggling with an underlying mental health condition or coping with some kind of trauma. It’s almost impossible to successfully treat one without treating the other.

  • Family involvement. As the parent, you have much greater influence than you think over what your child does. Your support and the example you set during treatment and recovery can have a significant impact.

  • Buy-in. Help your child recognize the value of getting treatment and encourage them to fully engage with the process.

  • Qualified and experienced treatment providers. Ask your physician for referrals and check out NIH’s Treatment Referral Resources to get started.
  • Tailored treatment that addresses the unique needs of your adolescent. Consider your child’s stage of development and their specific social and emotional, physical and mental health issues.
  • The treatment program is long enough and includes quality, continued aftercare.
  • After treatment, make sure that they come home to a community that is supportive of recovery. Encourage peer groups and activities that do not involve drugs or alcohol.

The journey to recovery is long and hard. But sustained sobriety is achievable for anyone who is committed to making change – with the appropriate support.