Through years of research and clinical experience, we have learned that addiction is a chronic illness influenced by genetics, environment, life events, and behavior. A person struggling with substance use does not choose to become addicted any more than someone with diabetes chooses to be insulin deficient. Attending treatment or deciding to stop using substances, however, is a choice – and a difficult one at that. Overcoming addiction takes a lot of effort, and while stable recovery can take time to achieve, it is the most likely outcome for people suffering from addiction. Perhaps because it is challenging, many find the journey of recovery to be a powerful and transformative one, where they not only give up substances but also experience new personal growth and an increased sense of meaning and purpose.

Individualized Recovery Management Plans

Although using one of several tried-and-true recovery strategies in a plan increases its chance of success, we do not subscribe to a one-size-fits-all approach. The first step to a successful plan is an in-depth assessment of someone’s unique difficulties, clinical needs, and strengths. From there, providers and patients collaborate on an initial plan tailored to these unique qualities.

No matter the goals, good recovery plans have two indispensable features:

  1. They are dynamic and flexible – subject to change based on someone’s progress and individual life circumstances
  2. They are comprehensive, involving both formal addiction treatment and community resources like mutual-help groups (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous), as well as parent participation and integrated mental health care (psychotherapy and/or medication) when appropriate

Motivation and Recovery

It is natural, and even expected for someone to have mixed feelings about quitting substances. This can be especially true for younger people, despite the considerable concerns of family and friends. Compared to middle aged and older adults, younger substance users, in general, have had fewer problems, and because of their still-developing brains, they may be less able to connect these problems to the substance use. This is where the value of an individualized plan is at a premium. For instance, building motivation to quit may be a better starting place for young people than strategies designed to help people quit. This way they can make the most of their new recovery skills and lifestyle changes when deciding to give recovery a try.

Recovery in Young People

The recovery obstacles encountered by young people, in particular, are striking, and add to the typical challenges of early recovery. They tend to have fewer abstinent peers and therefore less access to potential pro-recovery friends. They often have to adjust to stressful life transitions such as independent living. They also want to be more independent, perhaps listening less to parents’ input, yet their abilities to make good decisions and inhibit risky impulses are not yet fully developed. In fact, because ongoing substance use so seriously impacts brain development and day-to-day functioning, young recovering people will have to meet normal developmental milestones later in life than their non-using peers. This can negatively affect their self-esteem, often leading them to feel like they have to “catch up”.

An effective approach to treatment and recovery considers and addresses each of these factors. By developing new interests, acquiring recovery skills, and making pro-recovery friends, young people improve their likelihood of embarking on a fulfilling, independent life free of substances.

To learn more about the services ARMS has available to help with assessment and treatment of substance-related problems in young people and to support parents and other caregivers, please call us at 617-643-4699.