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?

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