According to a research study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, there are five major reasons for teen and youth relapse. The study focus-grouped a sample of teens and youth between the ages of 12 and 24 who were participating in substance abuse treatment programs and asked them questions about addiction and relapse relating to environmental, societal, and individual factors. The study revealed five major reasons for teens and youth relapse, which include emotional reasons, stress, cognitive factors, socialization processes, and environmental issues.

Emotional Reasons

90% of the teens and youth studied reported feeling unable to cope with their negative emotions without the use of drugs or alcohol. Therefore, substance use problems among teens and youth reveal that co-occurring problems, such as underlying psychological issues, may lead to drug or alcohol use. Depression, trauma, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and other mental disturbances may lead to self-medication and, therefore, teen or youth addiction. Recognizing the underlying psychological issues and dealing with them as well as the addiction is imperative for preventing relapse and maintaining recovery. Coping skills for dealing with and regulating emotions, specifically negative feelings, are essential to maintaining recovery in teens and youth.


Stress has scientifically been established as a substantial risk factor for relapse. Among the teens and youth studied, 85% of them reported life stressors as a risk for relapse. Stress for teens and youth differs from that of adults, due to the varying relationships between the individuals and their environments. For example, parental issues, school problems, and peer pressure are dominant stressors for teens, while stressors for youth include developing adult responsibilities and dealing with romantic relationships. Therefore, stressors for youth are similar to those found in adults in treatment. Furthermore, stress management is important to integrate with treatment programs for teens and youth.

Cognitive Factors

75% of the teens and youth studied reported cognitive factors, such as motivation and confidence, as predictors for relapse. Motivation is related to relapse in that most teens and youth suffering from drug or alcohol addiction do not have the desire to quit using in the first place. There is no motivation or desire to do so. Furthermore, most teens and youth seeking treatment are pressured to by a parent, school, judge, or other institution instead of doing so under their own volition. Furthermore, confidence describes one’s ability to abstain from drugs and alcohol while dealing with stressors in daily life, such as fitting in with the crowd and social networks.

Socialization Processes

Socialization processes were discussed by 65% of the teens and youth studied as being reasons for relapse. Generally, teens reported that friendships, media, and peer pressure are all triggers for relapse, while youth reported that social networks and social norms influenced relapses. Social norms are unwritten rules of behavior that are considered acceptable in a group, which may influence and encourage drug or alcohol use. Therefore, parents, school, and peers are socialization factors that have the ability to protect or predict future substance use. Media depictions of drug or alcohol use seem to determine relapse among teens as well, as industries spend billions of dollars marketing products to this specific age group. Therefore, socialization processes such as media, social norms, and peers can create difficulties for teens and youth who are seeking recovery and drug-free lifestyles.

Environmental Issues

Over half (55%) of the teens and youth studied reported environmental issues as reasons for relapse to drugs or alcohol. Access and availability to drugs and alcohol play a crucial role in relapse for youth. Most youth report that drugs and alcohol are easily accessible to them. Therefore, the environment in which the teen or youth is part of directly influences substance use and risk of relapse when in recovery. Factors such as poverty and crime in neighborhoods create a geographic disadvantage where the availability of drugs is pervasive. Triggers and social cues, such as merely seeing drug use, were also reported as influencing relapse.

Key Takeaways

The results of this study add clarity to the process of relapse in teens and youth, as they highlight the perceptions and experiences of treatment-involved youth themselves. In summary, there is no one reason that is sufficient enough to predict relapse among teens and youth. Teens and youth who are involved in treatment still face environmental, societal, and individual factors that impact their risk for relapse. Most teens and youth involved in treatment report facing struggles while transitioning out of treatment. Struggles include exposure to drugs and alcohol among peer groups, encountering life stressors, and dealing with social norms that reinforce drug use. With drugs and alcohol being easily accessible to most teens and youth, triggering relapse is a common occurrence for these individuals. Ongoing interventions to prevent relapse are necessary for sustaining recovery among this demographic.

Looking for Help?

Almost 70% of all deaths among teens and youth are attributed to unintended injuries, homicide, and suicide, all of which are highly correlated with substance use behaviors. However, recovery is possible and relapse does not equal failure. At Fort Worth Recovery, we understand that recovery from an addiction to drugs or alcohol is a personal and challenging road to travel. Our female-only adolescent addiction treatment inspires young women to face their challenges, accept their present state, and foster hope for their future. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, call us today at 844.332.1807, or visit us online.


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