In an earlier blog post, we explored how Shelterwood helps teens with substance abuse issues find both self-worth and sobriety. Ken DeBlock, Director of Substance Abuse Prevention and Recovery, laid out Shelterwood’s strategy, which includes a 12-step program; teaching teens the effects substances have on their bodies; immersing them in a positive sober culture; and helping them find their true identity outside of drugs and alcohol.
“The simplest thing you can ask a kid toward the end of their treatment here is ‘Do you feel better’?” says Ken. “The vast majority say they do. But it took a period of time to get through not just a physical withdrawal, but a mental and emotional withdrawal from the behavior and the identity they formed as a drug addict or a partier or the ‘kid who’s got problems’.”
Ken says that simple recognition—that a drug-free life genuinely feels better—is one of the biggest motivators for teens to maintain their sobriety. Reconnection with both family and hobbies they used to enjoy, like sports and art, also helps young people stay the course.
“They rekindle those things while they are here,” Ken says, “which provides a solid desire for sobriety.”
But what happens when it’s time to go home? Ken says that Shelterwood prepares teens for the transition back home during the entire course of their substance-abuse treatment. Part of that preparation is helping families learn how they can best support teens after they leave Shelterwood.
“We help parents understand why their teen started using to begin with,” Ken says. Even though the behavior was negative, many teens turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to fill very human, positive needs, like the need for social acceptance or emotional regulation.
“That need is not going away, they are just using something healthier to meet that need,” explains Ken. Parents who understand the underlying needs teens are trying to meet can help them continue to choose positive methods to fulfill them.
“We also help parents put behaviors in perspective,” Ken says. “In other words, struggling outside treatment is not failure. Failure is just giving up. Struggling is learning to apply what you’ve learned to your daily life.”
Ken explains that a relapse doesn’t necessarily mean the teen needs to go back into treatment. It might just be an opportunity to put something they learned at Shelterwood into action in their new environment.
“A relapse isn’t the end of the world for most of our kids,” Ken says. “It’s a sign that a lesson needs to be put into play.” So while teens are healthy and sober, Ken helps them develop what they call a “bounce-back plan.”
“If you mess up, what do you do?” Ken explains. “What’s a healthy response to messing up?”
Shelterwood also helps teens develop a relapse prevention plan, to help them think through things that could trigger a relapse in the first place. They spend a lot of time talking about the relationships the teen may be going back into and whether or not those friendships will support the teen’s sobriety. Ken also helps teens get clear on their short-term and long-term reasons for staying sober, from setting daily goals to envisioning big achievements, like graduating from college.
In addition, Shelterwood helps families develop a “home agreement” before the teen leaves the program, so everyone knows what will happen if the teen relapses. For example, the family might agree that they need to talk about relapses in family therapy. The expectations are set ahead of time, so there are no surprises later.
Finally, Ken says that they encourage teens to seek out an appropriate 12-step group to join when they return home. “The principles of openness and accountability when it comes to recovery are tried and true,” Ken says. “They get those needs met here, but they need a healthy way to meet them when they go home, too.”
Altogether, relapse prevention plans, bounce-back plans, family agreements, setting compelling goals and continuing a 12-step program help set teens up for success after they leave Shelterwood’s substance-abuse treatment.
“Our teens really leave here with an understanding of why what they were doing was harming them,” Ken says, “and with strong motivation for a sober lifestyle.”
Is your child struggling with substance abuse? There’s hope. Talk to our admissions counselors today to learn more about how Shelterwood can help.