The Battle of Being a Young Adult in Recovery
Today it is well known that addiction isn’t something that only affects a certain group of people. Addiction plagues all ages, genders, and social classes. Addiction also can span for years before people attempt to get help, and for others they are continuously trying to beat their addiction with multiple attempts at treatment. The difficult part of treatment is that relapse rates range from 40 to 60 percent according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and for those who also suffer from a mental illness like depression, rates are even higher. Not to mention that we live in a world full of temptation with liquor stores attached to our local markets and bars on every corner. For a young adult whose peers are all celebrating “twenty-first” birthdays and attending college parties, abstaining from alcohol and drug use could seem like you have to alienate yourself from every other young person to stay away from temptation. The battle of being a young adult in recovery is trying to find other young adults who abstain from drugs and alcohol, and accepting that your twenties won’t be like most other college kids because you can?t just have a few beers or even be around them.
Young adult brains are still developing, and when you combine that with the way drug abuse can alter brain function it can make for a difficult combination. Recovery is difficult for every addict at any age, but young adults whose brains are still developing in the critical areas which influence decision making, memory, and behavior drug use and abuse, it can be very difficult to quit and even more so to avoid relapse. For many young adults a common characteristic is stubborn behavior. Many think that they can handle quitting on their own or even more so don’t believe they have a problem and that they can change. It is not uncommon for young adult addicts to replace their prescription drug addiction with alcoholism, or to find it okay to drink occasionally because they aren’t using heroin any more. This theory has been called moderation management where abstinence isn’t the goal, but more so avoiding self-harm. The problem with this in my opinion is that with addictive personalities; if you tend to abuse one substance you will most likely grow to abuse another.
Many recovery friends of mine have found healthy addictions, but they are addictions nonetheless, such as gym addiction; hobbies they participate in regularly, but that’s what keeps them sober. Others have left college, gone to treatment and returned, but continued to drink because that’s what their friends did. Their drinking wasn’t a problem, but it lead them back to using and that was a problem.
According to doctors and scientists who have studied addiction and the chronic relapses that plague treatment, the most successful ways to prevent relapse include developing a long term treatment plan, staying involved with a strong support group, and remaining in a sober living home at least one year after treatment. One year may seem steep, but the chances of relapse are highest in the first year after treatment. For opiate addicts and abusers, 97% will relapse, and it just so happens that the most common drug of abuse in young adults is opiates. Not to mention that young adults are dealing with changes in their lives such as trying to get a job, graduating from college, and becoming a contributing member of society, and many of those things can be very stressful. Common triggers of relapse in young adults include:
- stress levels
- mental state
- failure to follow up with aftercare
- low confidence and motivation
- environment or social cues such as friends drinking
It is a difficult thing for a twenty something year old to say I can never drink or use again, and the friends I have can either support that or I will need to find new friends. It is difficult to even face siblings who can have a drink at dinner when you know you can’t, but that’s what treatment prepares you for. A good treatment program prepares you for leaving treatment and entering your old life, but with the intention of making many lifestyle changes. However, the addict has to want it and even then it is still hard to repulse the urges and cravings.
Easy lifestyle changes for the young adult in recovery:
Find as much support as possible. There are many meetings, groups that are in recovery, and planned activities such as hikes or meditation sessions. Do research because it’s likely there are many young adults in every community who share the journey of recovery.
Find a healthy addiction. Whether it is yoga, volunteering, a new career, or returning to school, these goals will help to stay motivated.
In college? Look for sober groups or meet-ups for college students in recovery.
Don’t be bored! Always doing something is exhausting, but staying busy means less time to realize cravings or have urges to seek substances.
Get rid of the friends who don’t provide support. Social pressure and the presence of drugs and alcohol are huge contributing factors of relapse. Those who can’t understand that not true friends.
Relapse is always a possibility, whether you are a young adult or are elderly. Relapse is not a sign of failure, but a chance to make changes to a recovery routine. Recovery is a lot about finding what works and what doesn’t, and unfortunately sometimes it takes a relapse to discover that. However, sober living facilities can help prevent relapse and can help you get back into treatment if a relapse is to occur. Sober living may seem daunting, but it can be just the right kind of boundaries needed during a fragile time, and it also allows time for building up confidence in recovery.