Being Young in Recovery – What’s it Like?

Addiction is a disease that affects people of all ages just the same. They say that “with age comes wisdom,” but addiction has a way of stunting your intellectual growth. People who are suffering from addiction in early adolescence or young adulthood have a unique advantage; if they get sober at a young age, they have a better shot at bouncing back and turning their lives around. At the same time, they’re also faced with unique challenges, such as a limited worldview and more peer pressure to “have fun” with less regard for the consequences. Being young in recovery is a great thing, but certainly has challenges.

being young in recovery
A picture from the Young People in Recovery conference in Philadelphia.

Many adults will tell you that when they were young, they were stubborn, shortsighted, and resentful of authority. Many adults claim that being young in recovery was an experience they wish they had. Most kids will experiment with drugs or alcohol without it turning into a full-blown addiction, but others are unable to control their use because they suffer from that awful disease.

Experts say that intellectual and emotional development essentially freezes up when addiction begins. If you start using at age 16, for example, when you get sober 10, 20, 30, or more years later, your brain will still be that of a 16-year-old in many ways. Being young in recovery will give you a real chance at living a positive, productive adult life without wasting so many years on addiction. The less time you spend using, the easier it will be to “catch up” developmentally.

However, being young in recovery is very difficult. Peer pressure coupled with a sense of rebellion make many young people resistant to change. Because they’re not yet settled into an adult life, it can be much harder for them to even see or admit that they have a problem. If they’re confronted, they’re more likely to have a “fight or flight” response than to face it. Being young in recovery gives young people a change to learn how to respond to challenges appropriately.

Two things that are essential to a successful recovery are especially important for young people: dedication and support. Without the true desire to get sober and stay sober, it will be too easy for young people to give into peer pressure or ignore the realities of their disease. Without a strong support network, young people may not have enough resources or strength on their own to find help for their problems or learn how to live differently and healthfully.

Because peer pressure to use can be so strong, it’s imperative that young people in recovery connect with other young people in recovery. Being young in recovery provides common ground to build relationships upon. Just having friends that don’t use irresponsibly is not enough, because they need to have friends that actually know the thought processes and challenges of addiction firsthand.

Early recovery is never easy, especially for young people. Going to college, having a 21st birthday, and many other milestones are unique obstacles. Being young in recovery requires dedication, support, and resources to establish a strong foundation in recovery, there is no reason why they can’t go on to live a happy and sober adult life.

If you got sober at a young age, what was your experience like? What advice do you have for any young people who are currently suffering from addiction and wanting a way out?


  1. Cristian Castellanos says

    My name is Cristian C. I am from the east bay in Northern California . The first time I had ever taken anything, I was 12 years old and it was an oxycotin a few friends of mine had taken from their parents cabinet. This began the dark process of addiction . Just 4 years later I found myself homeless in the city of San Francisco. I was incarcerated in the grips of addiction. In and out of mental hospitals, juvenile hall, and homeless shelters . I was no longer living life but surviving and looking for a way out. I resorted to prostitution, robbing, and absolutely anything to stay afloat . Finally after being ran through and defeated I got sent and took the oppourtunity to go to a treatment center in Santa Cruz California . This is where I had seen the hope in life that I had been searching for through drugs and alcohol. In the rehab center there was about 15 other teenagers ( 14-17) who all had similar stories as I did . People came in and shared their personal stories about drug and alcohol abuse ( H&I committee) and how they had made it through the other side with a life beyond their wildest dreams. They said you’re never too young . I believed them. It started with ” I want, to want, to be sober.” ( A common saying among young people coming into treatment and into 12 step programs. ) I had no idea that little desire was the beginning of my foundation to be sober. Later those weeks, reality had set in and I was ready to leave treatment and blow away everything, I came down to my knees and asked something to just fucking help me . Nothing happened. The next day I woke up and the most profound feeling and thought came through my mind. ” I don’t want to use anything or put anything in my body anymore, and I’m going to be okay”. That awakening took me through the rest of treatment and stayed with me after I had left. However, I was still faced with one dilemma: Where and how am I going to be 16 and sober and live ? I was still homeless and a high school drop out. Another miracle had happened: There was a clean and sober recovery high school in Santa Cruz. ( The Y.E.S. School ) and there was an S.L.E. Which took in minors who were serious about being sober. I knew then that was my path. But It didn’t work out the way I had planned. There was a waiting list for the SLE House . So my option was to wait it out and go back to homeless shelter until a bed had opened Up . All I needed to do was stay sober and check in with the house manager weekly , I stayed sober in the homeless shelter and raised my hand and asked for help people helped me out and I let them . I found similarities. Shortly after I got accepted into the sle and moved out to Santa Cruz. Enrolled in the sober high school . And 2 years later my life is amazing . A life beyond my wildest dreams. I have found a grip of young people who are teenagers, whom have never had a legal drink. And we still together and have a created a true fellowship, a bond , and a family. Being young and in recovery is not easy but it’s one of the best things to have . It’s fucking amazing. Recently one of the guys who I got sober with and went to the clean and sober high school with and lived with , Passed away from a heroin overdose. He had almost 2 years clean and sober and one day gave into the grips of addiction. The next day he passed away .He had just turned 18 years old with almost 2 years. He is my best friend a brother in recovery. It was a huge tragedy and pain staking event that happend to our young people community. But it has brought us all closer . If I can say anything about being young and sober ” Just do the next right thing, and if the next right thing is to hard to do, then just don’t do the wrong thing” and no matter what don’t drink or use. Everything is fair game and we can stay sober through any situation . And last sobriety and recovery is fun and it’s been only the beginning of an amazing life for me .

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