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When back to school might mean same peers — and relapse

August 11, 2018

San Antonio families are returning from vacations and preparing their kids for the 2018-19 school year. Schools are beginning their meet and greets with teachers. Advertisers are claiming to have the best back-to-school sales, and parents are making runs to H-E-B and Walmart for school supplies.

That’s how it goes for most families with teens returning to high school. But what about the kids who are coming from treatment that entails substance use disorder?

The preparation for their back-to-school experience is a different challenge. For these families, new clothes, new backpacks and which club to try or sports team to join are the least of their worries. These families and students have something more urgent to deal with: How to survive the school year without relapse, being arrested — and more than anything — how to stay alive this school year.

For San Antonio students, their only option is to return to their home campus — or not go back at all.

The challenges these teens face in returning to their schools of origin are stress, peers and social anxiety. The stress of going back to school occurs at all grade levels. But after the removal of alcohol and drugs, a heightened stress can occur. A wave of social anxiety is often created when a teenager has used drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms to deal with social discomfort and alienation, and just to fit in with peers.

Returning to school with the same set of friends with whom you used to drink, smoke and party, becomes problematic for most teens leaving treatment. Recovery is designed to allow a person to live free of alcohol and drugs while having a life that is manageable. This design warrants medical attention from 30, 60 and 90 days to even six months of inpatient treatment. And this is just a first step into recovery.

A Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health called for a continuum of health care extending from prevention to early identification and treatment of substance use disorders and long-term health care management, with the goal of sustained recovery.

What happens after an individual is discharged from treatment is where the practical application of recovery truly begins. Unless the people in their peer group are serious about recovery, they’re probably going to pressure the teen to pick up right where he or she left off.

Studies indicate that 60 percent to 70 percent of students with addiction problems relapse upon returning to their former high schools after treatment.

This is where recovery schools should come in. These schools are specifically designed to create an empowering and sober environment for youth. Attending a recovery high school — rather than an alternative or traditional public school — makes the recovery process and continuum of care a smoother transition.

School officials should look into this option.

Beatrice Blackmon is a graduate student at Our Lady of the Lake University, working on her Master of Social Work degree.

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