Understanding Young Adult Addiction Treatment

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In the addiction treatment field, programs have traditionally been divided into two age-based types: adolescent programs for participants under the age of 18, and adult programs for men and women ages 18 and above.

In recent years, however, a new category has emerged. Young adult treatment programs are designed to provide focused care for individuals whose needs may fall outside the purview of either an adolescent or adult program. Depending upon their structure and services, some young adult programs are limited to individuals between the ages of 18 and 25, while others accept participants up to the age of 29 or 30.

In terms of treating an individual’s chemical dependency, effective young adult treatment programs usually employ the same types of time-tested and research-supported therapeutic interventions and related services that have proved effective in adult and adolescent programs. For example, men and women who receive care in a young adult addiction treatment program may participate in individual, group, and family therapy sessions that incorporate cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and other appropriate modalities.

Many young adult addiction treatment programs are also based upon the principles of the 12-step recovery model, a framework that has been helping men and women achieve long-term sobriety for more than 70 years.

However, these similarities do not mean that the only difference between young adult programs and those that are designed to treat either adolescents or all adults is the age of the individuals who are receiving care. Both the content and the structure of young adult programs have been developed in order to best address age-specific issues in an age-appropriate manner.

Of course, as is the case among all types of treatment programs, the individual components that are included in any young adult program may be determined by a variety of factors, including the philosophies of the program, and the skills and experiences of the treatment professionals. Within those parameters, though, the following are among the many features, attributes, and points of focus that may be included in young adult treatment programs.

Experiential therapy and recreational activities: Hands-on immersive activities offer a wide range of benefits and may have special appeal to young adults who embrace more active lifestyles. Yoga and meditation, expressive arts, surfing, white-water rafting, and even wilderness experiences are among the many hands-on activities that can be incorporated into a young adult addiction treatment program.

In addition to offering an alternative means of making therapeutic inroads, these elements can also provide young adults with new ways of dealing with stress and filling hours of their days that may previously been occupied by acquiring and using substances of abuse. Some programs offer limited experiential therapies and recreational activities, while others make such opportunities central to the treatment experience.

Family education, therapy, and support: Family-based services are not unique to young adult treatment programs, but programs that serve individuals between the ages of 18 and 30 can approach the topic of healthy family relations from an important, specific perspective. Young adult men and women, whose healthy development has been derailed by substance abuse and chemical dependency, are likely to have also experienced disruptions and dysfunctions in their relationships with their parents.

Though young adults are no longer in the legal custody of their parents, their struggles with substance abuse and addiction may have caused them to remain dependent upon their parents for both financial and emotional support, and their relationship problems may be exerting a significant negative influence on the ability of all involved parties to develop healthier and more age-appropriate relationships. Young adult programs can dedicate the necessary time, effort, and focus toward helping young adults, their parents, and other relevant family members to heal past damage, establish healthy connections and boundaries, and provide more meaningful support to each other going forward.

Independence and self-reliance: It is no secret that substance abuse and addiction are associated with delayed progress and impaired development. Some young adults may have begun abusing alcohol or other drugs after experiencing academic and/or occupational setbacks, while others may have experienced problems in school or at work because of their substance abuse. Regardless of how the problem started, the result is often a downward spiral in which failures, frustrations, and substance abuse feed off and exacerbate each other. This cycle can dramatically limit a person’s ability achieve self-reliance and establish an independent lifestyle.

An addiction treatment program that is designed specifically to help young adults may place great emphasis on helping participants to bridge the gaps that have prevented them from making a healthy transition into independent adulthood. This effort is likely to involve both therapy and education. Specific issues that may be addressed can include setting appropriate boundaries, developing healthy self-esteem, establishing and living within a proper budget, setting realistic life goals, identifying the resources that will support continued growth and development, and learning to be an effective advocate for oneself.

Though programs that focus solely on young adults are relatively recent additions to the addiction treatment field, such programs meet a clear need and many have already proved to be particularly effective. As with all decisions regarding addiction treatment, the choice to enter a program for young adults should not be made without carefully assessing the program’s ability to meet the specific need of the person who needs care. When the individual’s unique strengths, needs, and treatment goals match up with the philosophies and practices of a young adult treatment program, the result can be a powerful experience that puts the individual in an optimal position to successfully pursue a happier, healthier, and more satisfying future.

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