Helping Teens Navigate Summer Sobriety

By The Fix staff 06/28/17

In summer, young people go from over-booked to not having much to do. This can cause anxiety and depression to spike, and teens can end up self-medicating.

Young people walking to the beach, seen from the back.

Summertime often brings to mind swimming holes, barbecues and trips to the beach, usually with a cooler full of alcoholic drinks. For many people, summer fun involves cracking open a cold one, which makes this season an especially stressful times for teens who are in recovery.

“In our culture a lot of summer celebrations involve alcohol, whether that’s the 4th of July or any other event,” says Cole Rucker, the founder and CEO of Paradigm Malibu, a treatment center for teens struggling with depression, anxiety and addiction.

What Makes Maintaining Summer Sobriety Difficult for Teens?

Rucker says that for teens summer is fraught with things that make maintaining sobriety more difficult; foremost among them the vast amount of free time that summer presents.

“A lot of young people go from over-booked to not having a lot to do, and can wind up spending too much time looking inward in non-productive ways without the proper support,” Rucker explained. “That can cause anxiety and depression to spike, and they self-medicate for that.”

Even if a teen isn’t battling mental health issues, sometimes drinking or using during the summer seems like the most fun option.

“Young people get bored, or the only peers they can find have easy access to other young people who are using,” Rucker says. 

What Can Teens do to Stay Sober Over Summer?

Having a plan is essential for teens who are trying to maintain their sobriety this summer.

“What you don’t want to do is wing it,” Rucker says.

Teens should tap into their formal and informal recovery systems, and have someone they can talk to that understands the difficulties of being a sober teen during summer vacation.

“If you find yourself on a verge of relapse, you want to know there is someone a phone call away,” he says.

Many teen treatment facilities have alumni programs that teens can attend during the summer months. Even adolescents who have not been through treatment can call Paradigm Malibu to get help finding sober events for teens in their area.

“We’ll spend as much time with them as we need to make sure that happens,” Rucker says.

These events, ranging from sober dances to sober outings to amusements parks, are essential to helping teens see that they are able to have a fulfilling life as a young person in recovery.

“There are all kinds of opportunities to make summer very constructive so that it becomes a little easier to stay sober,” Rucker says.

How Can Parents Help? 

Parents who are worried about their teen’s drinking or using patterns this summer should look for the usual red flags that indicate a teen might be in need of help. These include: 

  • Becoming more reserved
  • Hanging out with new friends, but not bringing them around home.
  • Beginning to lie or steal

If a teen would benefit from addiction treatment, summer is the perfect time to complete rehab, Rucker says. There are two main reasons why choosing to go to rehab during summer is a good idea: 

  1. Fewer academic pressures - For one thing, teens don’t have to choose between getting sober and keeping up with school, since there are fewer academic pressures during the summer.
  2. No scrutiny from peers - It’s also easier for teens to go away to rehab without dealing with scrutiny from their peers, since so many people travel during the summer.

“It’s much more of a low-profile decision during the summer than during the school year,” Rucker says. Perhaps because of that, he has found that teens are more willing to consider rehab during the summer months. 

“I’ve found youth are much more receptive during the summer,” he says.

Maintaining summer sobriety as a teen requires as much support as possible, and Rucker reminds parents and other adults that they are an integral part of the process.

“Many adults will be drinking alcohol this summer, but it’s important for families to be cognizant of that and make sure the family spends as much time in sober environments as possible.”

Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent treatment center in Malibu, California. Find out more at or follow them on Facebook.

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