How Are We Treating Newly Sober Teens?


I was on Facebook the other day (as I am far too often), and noticed a post from a friend I’ve known since she entered recovery more than 15 years ago.  The post was one of those funny little ecards asking the reader to take her negativity elsewhere.

The thing is, when I met my friend, she was barely out of high school and was the most angry and surly person I’d ever met.  She was sober and hated every minute of it.  She did her darndest to make us all miserable too but we just laughed and loved her anyway.

Today, she is married and has steadily climbed the seniority ladder at the company she joined not long after entering recovery.  Instead of her former junk food and sedentary self, she’s into high-endurance fitness and a healthy lifestyle.

I am so proud of her.

The miracle of teenage recovery

I’ve met many people who entered recovery as teenagers after four, five or six years of intense addiction. I’m really in awe because I just can’t fathom what it must feel like to suddenly find yourself sober and surrounded by all these old people in recovery.

Heck, I was 30 and felt that way.

All recovery is a miracle, but at 17 or 18 years of age?  Or younger?  For those of us who have more recovery time than these young folks have been alive, I have a question:

How are we treating these kids when they enter recovery?

I’ve sat in rigid 12 Step meetings when so-called old timers shut down a young person for speaking of substances outside the scope of the meeting.  I’ve watched these teens flounder because there was no other person within a generation willing to share the joys of early recovery with them.

Thankfully, I haven’t witnessed that kind of lackluster recovery for several years.

Other options for teens

As the iterations of drugs morph among the world’s teens, so have the mutual support organizations.  The choices for a recovery path have broadened beyond traditional 12 step groups, including online meeting options.

Plus, there are tremendous role models all over the country thanks in part to an advocacy group called Young People in Recovery (YPR).

There’s something else I’m noticing as I hang around recovering people.  The older ones–both chronologically and in terms of sober time–are more willing to embrace not only the teens but the lifestyles that the teens bring to recovery.

I believe technology has helped foster that willingness.  It provides a common ground where age applies only if you want it to. I think social media has provided a tremendous boon to young people seeking recovery.

So, good for all of us!  Let’s keep spreading the recovery love to those who, like my friend from many years ago, are scared and distrustful.

Let’s keep laughing and loving them anyway.

Wishing you lots of love and laughter this Valentine’s Day.

Photo courtesy of pippalou 

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  1. There is a big difference I believe between someone in their teens in recovery than an older adult, and their needs do need to be met. My daughter was 19 when she entered treatment and started with AA. Her second treatment program was in Orange County, CA. I went to one of her chip meetings and because of the large number of treatment programs in Orange County, at this particular meeting, there must have been about 100 people most under the age of 30. It was amazing.

    I saw a couple of older folks, and they actually stuck out. The support my daughter received was incredible, and I do believe that made the difference for her. I know this doesn’t happen everywhere in the country, but I do agree that young people in recovery need to be around each other so they that they can get the mutual support.

    • Beth says:

      Cathy, your story about your daughter’s chip meeting made me think about how I once teased some twenty-somethings about not letting us oldsters come to one of their youth conferences. I faked indignation about discrimination and that despite my age, I was a kid at heart. I had them going for awhile and after exchanging glances, they said I would be welcome to come. At that point, I relented and let them go about their business. I have no doubt that they would not have turned me away.

      Happy Valentine’s Day to you!

  2. Hi Beth! Yes so important for our youth to help each other. They thrive in that group setting maybe even more than some of the rest of us. And as for the rest of the population, if they aren’t familiar with recovery, they either shy away from supporting those who are recovering either from ignorance or judgment – not helpful. So all the more reason for support from wherever it can come from! Cheers and Happy Valentine’s Day!

    • Beth says:

      Hi Leslie and Happy Valentine’s Day to you as well! So glad you stopped by to lend support to youth recovery. When I think about all the synthetic drugs available to today’s teens that weren’t around when I was young and using, I am so amazed that any kid makes it into recovery. Thank God they do!

  3. You raise such an important point in this post, Beth. It must be terribly difficult to be in some meetings listening to the horror stories of the ravages of addiction when you’ve not had anything like that sort of experience. It must also be hard if you’re not totally convinced you could be “truly” an addict/alcoholic at such a young age. As you write, it is wonderful there is such a “young people in recovery” movement going on – recovery high schools, recovery groups on college campuses, recovery advocacy groups, for example – because so much of addiction starts before the age of 19 so helping them early is so important.

    • Beth says:

      Absolutely, Lisa. We must meet young people where they are. And it can’t be with some crotchety old guy saying, “I spilled more than you drank, kid,” in a nicotine-laced rasp. We are making advances, that’s for sure. Trial and error. Keeping the conversation going is key, don’t you think?

  4. Herby Bell says:

    Hey Beth,

    I very much appreciate and like the tone of this post. Such a good distinction and call for conversation about this issue of youth in recovery.

    Yes, wouldn’t it be great if there were more resources for younger people in recovery who feel doubly, like “fish out of water”. Your story of the “resentment to ambition” however, reinforces my faith in human nature that when given the chance, people will find the path to healing, wellness and a thriving life.

    And after speaking in High Schools just recently to these issues, it’s pretty clear ALL young people are genuinely interested in ways to get and stay on these healthier tracks.

    Thanks for your authentic concern for our future.

    • Beth says:

      I think you’re right, Herby. It’s been quite some time since I worked directly with middle-school and high-school kids, but as I recall, most were open to messages of hope and healing. I would guess they’re even more interested now as so many more are now affected by the ravages of alcoholism, prescription drug abuse, not to mention heroin addiction.

      We must stay positive and hopeful!

  5. This is such an important piece, Beth. The more we come to understand and truly acknowledge the unique challenges of being a teen, the more lives we’ll save. Again, love is the answer – as it typically is within the realm of human dilemma. The laughter part helps, as well. Thank you, Beth…

    • Beth says:

      The older I get, the more I find that approaching everything with love and an appropriate dose of laughter is critical to universal wellbeing. Thank you, Bill, for your support.

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