Treating young adults for substance abuse and addiction requires a unique understanding of this age group. The young adult mentality, as well as brain development and a desire to recover are all part of the recovery equation. Lack of life experience significantly impacts a young adult’s beliefs concerning drug use.

The brain is not yet fully developed, which puts them at higher risk for developing addiction. Younger adults are also influenced by the millennial culture and changing drug laws, which may make them more resistant to treatment than other age groups. Young adults are often more of an experimental stage of life than older adults. They are not as knowledgeable about their body’s reaction to a drug as adults might be. This could explain why drug overdose rates have increased significantly in the last ten years among those in this age group.1

Young Adult Minds

When it comes to young adults, realizing their need for treatment may take longer and be more complicated than their adult counterparts. The inability to make good decisions, understand that they are not invincible and to accept the reality of their situation are all factors in when and how treatment happens. Young adults have many more years in front of them to recover from a mistake and may not feel the same urgency to “get their life clean” as an older adult.

Distraught woman hiding faceWith the expansion of legal marijuana, young adults may also be desensitized to the harm of excessive drug use can cause. It is important that treatment professionals and parents are aware of these changing attitudes about drug use and the damage it causes. Ease of access to illegal drugs does not mean drug and alcohol abuse is any less dangerous. Legal drugs like alcohol and prescription pain killers destroy lives, families, and kill thousands each year.

Brain Development

The age of full brain development may surprise many. Our laws allow driving at 16, voting at 18 and legal drinking at 21. Yet, the rational part of a teen’s brain is not fully developed until he or she is about 25 years old.

Research shows adult and teen brains operate differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain is responsible for rational thought and controls the ability to respond to life’s situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences.

Teens process information with the amygdale. This is the emotional part of the brain.

In the teen brain, the connections between the decision-making center and the emotional part of the brain are still developing. When teens experience overwhelming emotional input, they feel rather than think. This explains why teens are unable to explain what they were thinking when making decisions in an emotionally-charged situation.2

Regarding drug use and abuse, there are two important points as it relates to the developing brain:

  • Excessive drug use may impair brain development in younger adults
  • The rational understanding of the dangers of excessive drug use may not be fully appreciated.

Both factors can be challenging for the parent and the treatment professional.

Recovery Motivation

One of the primary attributes of successful treatment and recovery is an earnest desire on the part of the client to get clean.

For most young adults struggling with substance abuse, parents may be the driving force behind initial treatment admission. This is significant because one of the primary attributes of successful treatment and recovery is an earnest desire on the part of the patient to get clean. Young adults may not feel the need for treatment when it seems obvious to their parents or other adults.

Treatment professionals must be aware of the true desire of their patients to receive treatment. If the parents are the driving force, treatment professionals may need to adjust their approach, including addressing the dangers of abuse at the outset more than they would for the young adult who is fully committed to recovery.3

Finding Treatment For Young Adults

Many quality treatment programs across the country accept young adults and teenagers for drug and alcohol treatment. There are facilities that offer gender-specific housing and separate programs to enable the young adult to fully focus on their recovery.

While young adults may find it difficult to admit to the need for help and fully embrace a treatment program, early intervention is key to preventing lifelong drug addiction. If you or a loved one struggles with substance abuse, call our toll-free helpline 24 hours a day at 269-280-4673. Our admissions coordinators are ready to answer your questions about available treatment options.


1 National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Overdose Death Rates.” NIDA. N.p., 06 Jan. 2017. Web. 19 July 2017.

2 “Understanding the Teen Brain .” Understanding the Teen Brain – Health Encyclopedia – University of Rochester Medical Center. University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, NY, 2017. Web. 19 July 2017.

3 Winters, Ken C., Andria M. Botzet, and Tamara Fahnhorst. “Advances in Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment.” Current psychiatry reports. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2011. Web. 19 July 2017.