Parental Burn-Out: When Teens Test Your Recovery Limits

Don't let the stress of raising teenagers drive you headlong into relapse.

As the slam of the bedroom door rocked the house, Kevin sank onto the living room couch. He just finished round two (for today) with his teenage son. Why did adolescence have to be so dramatic? He could hardly speak to his son without an argument exploding out of the conversation.

Kevin worked hard to be a good parent and provide for his kids, but it was feeling like too much to handle. Maybe he should try something – just to take the edge off. He knew what his life was like before he got sober, but it didn’t have to go back to that.

Maybe just a drink (or two) would help him relax...

When Things Unravel

Parental stress is real. The trauma and turmoil of teen years is not a figment of some psychologist’s imagination. Parenting a teenager is tough. For those who have a history of substance abuse, this can be a particularly trying time. Under 24/7 stressors, parents in recovery are often tempted to return to old habits. Compared to the drama delivered by your teen, drugs or alcohol start to look like a reasonable and welcome escape.

Still, there’s a part of you that knows this will only make things worse in the end. Substance abuse only adds fuel to the fire of an already heated situation. You’ll need every ounce of sobriety to handle adolescence in a healthy way. Your teen also needs you to set a good example of how to deal with stress.

Holding It Together

So, how is this possible? How do you not fall prey to temptation? Find other ways to cope.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Cut yourself some slack: Before trying anything, start with acknowledging the challenges you are facing. This isn't an easy time for anyone. Your struggles don't mean you're a failure. They just mean you’re a human with a hormone-crazed teen under your roof. You're adjusting to an entirely new child as they mature. You're probably facing changes of your own as you enter midlife (health changes, career changes, family changes.) There’s a lot going on. Admit this, and accept that it might be tough – at least for a season.
  • Take care of yourself: In the mad dash to meet your teen’s needs, it’s easy to neglect your own. Just as you were told during early recovery: get enough rest, eat healthy foods, exercise, give yourself down time. Maybe you take daily walks, or bubble baths, or something else that helps you relax. Staying physically and mentally healthy goes a long way in staying sober.
  • Let yourself cry: Bottling up your emotions can lead to opening bottles. Allow yourself a good cry. Don’t deny the emotions you’re feeling. Express them with tears, talking, journaling, or other healthy methods.
  • Don’t go it alone: Whether you are a single parent or have a supportive partner, it’s important to get some people on your team. Join a parent support group. Speak with a therapist. Get in touch with a doctor or nutritionist. Reach out to friends who also have teens. Build a strong support network to carry you through these years.

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