Plan for Teen Returning from Residential Treatment

If your teen is coming home from residential treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction, it’s a good idea for your family to create a recovery plan together. You want to build on the progress your teen has made by supporting their recovery and growth and enhancing your family’s well-being as a whole. A recovery plan should be created in cooperation with your teen where you can define what will help both of you move forward in a healthy and positive way.

Wipe the Slate Clean

Likely, if your teen needed to be enrolled in a residential treatment program, he or she has broken rules, your trust, and possibly your heart in the past. Addiction can create a lot of harm in relationships. Despite that hurt and those difficulties, parents must model maturity and make every effort to move on from the incident and begin the work of trusting again. Even if you don’t feel like trusting again, remember that your child actually needs your trust in order to mature. Without parental trust, teens have a harder time building self-confidence, developing positive relationships and growing into successful adults. So, when your teen returns from addiction treatment, it is helpful to give your teen a clean slate. Think of this time as a new beginning – an opportunity to forgive past mistakes and problems and start fresh. Communicate this to your teen.

Communicate Expectations

You must create a roadmap for success for your teen. Clearly define your expectations and how your teen can go about earning your trust. Telling a teen to “grow up” or “do the right thing” won’t provide the information he or she needs. Establish specific benchmarks that will help your teen meet your expectations. Do not just silently expect your teen to call you to check in when they are out. Tell them it will help increase your trust if they call in every two hours. Providing structure and spelling out a routine can be very helpful for recovery success. With input from your teen, lay out what behaviors you expect with respect to chores; school attendance/performance; family interactions; finding a job and/or work schedules; addressing financial issues such as allowances, bills and fines; cell phone and internet privileges; and hanging out with friends (curfews, monitoring whereabouts, etc.). Be specific! Negotiate these expected behaviors with your teen so that they buy in to the rules and so that the rules are established in a way that sets your teen up for success.

Create a Supportive Environment

People who have suffered from addictions in the past must be aware of the people, places and things that surround them. A teen’s environment can either prevent or trigger a relapse. It’s been proven over and over that if a person continues to hang around the same places, with the same people, doing the same things that they did when they abused substances, it is only a matter of time before he or she will feel pressured to use again. Being in recovery means that you have to change your old ways and start doing something different. Your recovery plan should detail ways that your teen will avoid past habits and develop new, positive habits. Additionally, you should help your teen identify alternative social networks and positive extracurricular activities. Support groups, such as the 12-step programs Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), which provide ongoing support for people with addictions to alcohol or drugs free of charge and in a community setting, have been proven to be very successful and are a good idea for your teen.

It’s also helpful to discuss how frequently you will communicate with each other about your teen’s progress in recovery. Many parents feel understandably anxious and might want a daily report, while your teen may feel like every time you ask a question, they are being interrogated. Again, negotiate a solution that works for both of you. Many families find that a weekly check-in works well. You want to create accountability for your teen without smothering them.

On-Going Treatment

Your recovery plan must detail on-going treatment. The residential treatment program put your teen on the road to recovery, but its completion is not the end of the road. Decide together whether your teen will attend an outpatient program, individual and/or family counseling, support group meetings, probation, and/or a combination of all of these.

Work with the School

Returning to school after a residential treatment program is a major change for youth that can lead to adjustment difficulties, social challenges, and the potential for stress and anxiety triggering substance use. You should work with your teen and their school to smooth this transition. First of all, once you know when your teen will be returning to school, contact the school administration right away and begin preparing for the transition, such as enrolling in classes, establishing helpful accommodations and supports, and creating any necessary plans. Share your teen’s goals, skills and interests so that the administration can link your teen to specific opportunities in the school. Some schools even identify an adult mentor who can encourage your teen’s growth. In addition, contact the school’s guidance counselor and nurse to ensure your teen’s needs are known and understood. These individuals can be powerful allies in your teen’s transition.

Establish Rewards and Consequences

A recovery plan should include detailed rewards for meeting goals and expectations, as well as consequences for when they are not met. They should be specific to a behavior (not for a bundle of transgressions) and should be something you are willing to follow through on. Decide together ahead of time what they will be and then be consistent with both rewards and consequences each and every time, without fail. Examples of specific rewards and consequences you could offer your teen are:

  • If you attend your support group for 90 days in a row, we will have a celebratory dinner at a restaurant of your choosing.
  • If you bring home an Honor Roll report card, we will give you a $25 gift card to your favorite clothing store.
  • For every 15 minutes you are late past curfew, you lose a day of car privileges.
  • When you don’t respond to text messages from family members within an hour, you will lose your cell phone for a day.

In addition, don’t forget that a simple gesture of acknowledgement or praise can go a long way. While this should not be in your recovery plan, please don’t forget to offer your teen a kind word, an encouraging text message, or a hug, when you see them making positive efforts, such as attending an appointment, making new friends, or trying a new activity.

Final Thoughts…

Creating a recovery plan takes a lot of work, communication, and effort, but it is well worth the effort. By sitting down together and discussing your expectations ahead of time, you will build upon your teen’s progress and help set the course for their continued growth, as well as the good health of your whole family.

Treatment Referral Resources

If you believe that your teen needs help with substance abuse, below are reputable resources for obtaining treatment referrals:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Treatment Locator: 1-800-662-HELP or search

The “Find A Physician” feature on the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) Web site:

The Patient Referral Program on the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry Web site:

The Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Finder on the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Web site:

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