Arguably the single most significant obstacle in treating emerging adults and adolescents with substance use disorders is environmental. It’s a common and increasingly dangerous problem facing an entire generation. This issue stems from the misconception that we can simply take established adult treatment models and juxtapose them onto emerging adult populations. There has been an ever-loudening demand to provide more and better services in the communities in which people live. The problem with this, as it applies to emerging adult populations, is twofold. First, it is incredibly ineffective for emerging adults to remain in environments they are actively using in by the time they actually seek help. Second, and perhaps more problematic, is that it is frequently more effective to treat established adults in their home communities, which creates the illusion of a solution for young adults with similar issues.
There is a myriad of reasons for these generationally specific dynamics, but the most significant is that established adults often have planted roots in the communities they live and the external motivating factors to seek help are often quite different. When an individual has a career, a mortgage, a family, several things will often occur even during the development of the substance use disorder that are fundamentally different than the common occurrences in emerging adult populations. The first, is that they will often seek help earlier and are highly motivated to accept supportive interventions at less acute levels of care. Along these same lines, when acute care is required, established adults, particularly impaired professionals, do significantly better with relatively brief 28 day models followed by a return to their home environment with long term subacute care support services from therapists, psychiatrists, assistance programs established for members of their profession, and peer support. It’s worth noting that established adults’ “home environment” often includes a supportive work environment with conscientious co-workers rather than isolation in a parent’s basement with an Xbox for company as is often the case for young adults. Established adults often have a life to get back to and repair as the very term “rehabilitation” indicates. Unfortunately, we tend to mistake acorns for oak trees when it comes to young “adults” and their needs. The very logical thought process of, “This worked great for my established adult peer so I’ll try it out for my emerging adult child” falls victim to this inherently fatal flaw.
Consequently, of equal importance to the quality of treatment itself is the environment into which a recovering young adult is going to be living, working, learning, growing and thriving in post-acute care treatment. The first 30 days are actually in many ways less important to the overall success of the treatment outcome than the 10 or 11 months following acute care. So significant are these post-acute care months that one of the single most important questions any family seeking services for an emerging adult should ask during the initial interviews for care is, “What happens after inpatient?”
While there is no single destination that has the “best” recovery ready community in the country, what can and must be established for virtually every emerging adult seeking treatment is that the best place to heal, at least for a while, is anywhere that has a community of people in recovery and isn’t under a mile to their drug dealer’s front door.
If you or a loved one are in need of treatment for substance use disorder or if you’re already in recovery and are considering returning to college, contact us to learn more about our inpatient/outpatient services and post-treatment academic support program.