A teenager's social group is one of the most influential influences in a young person's life. Peers actions and advice can be contributing factors in how and why an adolescent may act the way they do. Whether or not a teen drinks can be greatly influenced by their peer group.
An adolescent's brain isn't completely developed, and regions involving reward processing, decision-making, impulse control, and an accurate understanding of potential consequences are not yet fully formed. A teenager may take bigger risks without as much regard for the potential harmful consequences of their actions.
A National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) study found that just the mere presence of a teenager's peers could influence their behaviors and encourage them to act in a riskier manner without them even saying anything. Teens want to impress their friends, and sometimes, drinking alcohol may seem like the "cool" thing to do. The Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey published by NIDA indicates that in 2016, over half of all high school seniors reported past-year alcohol consumption.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that youth who start drinking before they turn 15 are six times more likely to then struggle with alcohol abuse or dependence after they reach the legal drinking age of 21. Underage drinking concerns are often managed through comprehensive and specialized youth alcohol use treatment programs. After alcohol rehab is completed, aftercare services are important to sustain recovery, and these programs encourage participation in recovery support groups. Due to the high level of influence a teenager's peer circle has, support groups that are made up of other teens in recovery can be highly beneficial to minimize relapse and encourage adolescents to maintain abstinence.
Specifics of a Teen Support Group
A recovery support group is anonymous, free to join, and open to anyone who wishes to remain abstinent from alcohol. There are thousands of these types of support groups all over the country, and local chapters meet in a variety of locations at different times to be accessible to as many people as possible.
There are also different kinds of groups, including those that cater to the teen demographic. Peer support groups are often 12-Step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Considered a self-help group, AA helps individuals to work through the 12 Steps of recovery, admitting they are powerless over alcohol, and turning themselves over to a higher power. AA is spiritual in nature, although nondenominational, and helps its members to maintain sobriety. Meetings are generally about 90 minutes in length.
There are specific groups for teens that are made up of other youths who have similar experiences and can therefore relate to and encourage each other. Other teenagers are great sources of encouragement for adolescents, as they may be more willing to listen to their peers. Often, a teenager may be more willing to listen when a peer shares versus an adult. Teenagers face challenges that may be specific to their age, and in reality, an adult may not actually understand what they are going through in the same way that another teen can.
AA meetings generally include people in all stages of recovery, and those who have been sober for longer may be able to share tools and tips for sustaining recovery and combating peer pressure to drink. These groups discuss specific triggers that teens may face and help individuals to find methods for dealing with stress and handling situations that may come up. AA groups often set people up with a peer mentor whom they can call at any time of day or night to help them in times of a potential crisis.
There are alternatives to the 12-Step program that may have teen-based groups to support recovery. One such alternative is SMART (Self-Management and Recovery Training) Recovery, which hosts a teen and youth addiction recovery program. The SMART Recovery program has both online meetings and a message board for teens to support recovery. This group focuses on a four-point program to help members build motivation to make positive changes; cope with cravings and urges; learn how to control and manage thoughts, emotions, and behaviors; and learn how to live a balanced and full life.
SMART Recovery is not a 12-Step program, and it is not spiritual in nature. Instead, SMART Recovery focuses on the individual taking charge of their own life and recovery, and teaches tools and techniques to do so. Meetings are typically facilitated by volunteer advisors who work through specific topics while allowing teens to ask questions and discuss things in an encouraging, welcoming, and safe environment. Teens are able to connect with each other while obtaining guidance from trained volunteers who have experience with alcohol abuse and addiction.
How to Find a Teen Support Group
NIDA reports that peer recovery support services can help teens to stay engaged in their recovery. These groups can foster healthy social networks with peers who are also committed to remaining sober and participating in activities and events that are alcohol- and drug-free. The Journal of Addictive Disorders publishes that participating actively in a recovery support group, such as AA, can increase a person's rate of abstinence and minimize episodes of relapse.
It is important for a person to feel comfortable in their recovery support group, and a group of peers is often less intimidating and more welcoming to a teenager than a room full of adults. This may encourage a teenager to open up more and be more willing to actively participate, helping them to form a new and healthy social network.
Peer support groups and recovery services may be found through a variety of sources.
- The Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator hosted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) can provide information on local behavioral health services.
- Information on how to find local and teen-specific Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and resources can be found on the AA
- Rehab facilities and substance abuse treatment providers often host recovery support groups or provide referrals to them. Many support groups begin meeting while in rehab and then continue throughout recovery.
- The SMART Recovery Online Meeting Schedule details meeting information for registered members.
- Medical and mental health providers often have information on recovery support groups in the local area.
- Other individuals in recovery are great resources for finding a peer support group, as they usually have firsthand experience on where to look and what to look for.
- Community-based programs, community centers, churches, and local nonprofit groups focused on preventative measures and strengthening local communities may host recovery support services on site, or provide information on local meetings and groups that may be teen-specific.
- School counselors and educators can often provide information on recovery support services for teens.
A teen support group can be highly beneficial during recovery to help an adolescent navigate peer pressure, manage cravings and triggers, and live a life free from alcohol and alcohol-related problems. These groups can provide a healthy social outlet, and they may participate in sober activities and events together as well. Teen-specific support groups can be a vital aspect of recovery for many.