When considering a treatment program for a young adult, the most important factor for drug and alcohol recovery is the possibility for long-term success after formal treatment is completed. Age-specific recovery programs for drug and alcohol addiction are one way to find a rehab program tailored to your needs. This increases the chances of success.

Recently, drug and alcohol treatment programs have increased greatly in the U.S. And yet, the programs in most treatment centers are designed for all adults, age 18 and older, male and female. This treatment-for-all approach might not be as effective as gender and age-specific programs for people suffering from substance use disorders.

Importance of Age-Specific Drug Rehab Programs

An age-specific approach to recovery has several benefits that include:

Targeted Programs

Age-specific programs create a more focused atmosphere for their patients. For example, people who matured decades ago, are more likely to have been raised with the idea that addiction is shameful. It may be very difficult to get an older adult or a senior to admit to addiction in a room full of younger people. Younger people may also have difficulty talking about their issues in front of people who remind them of their parents.

Pharmacology (medication)

Addiction treatment plans occasionally call for a medical approach. When patients in recovery are assembled according to their age groups, their psychiatric and medical needs are easier to predict and subsequently meet. Rehab and recovery treatment has to take a combined approach with pediatrics, young adult, adult, or geriatric medicine just like it does with psychiatry and pharmacology.


The road to sobriety is unique to every individual. For some, it includes detox and residential addiction treatment program. For others, it may be an intensive outpatient program and a sober living residency. The needs of a person in recovery are generally more predictable when you can take into account a range of factors, especially age. Advance knowledge of what approaches are likely to work improves the chances of long-term recovery.

Peer Community

People like to be with peers with whom they have something in common. Forming a supportive community of fellow addicts and alcoholics during recovery is vital to the individual’s success. Having things in common with others in the rehab program is likely to make the community-building process easier and will have a positive effect on a person’s ongoing recovery.

In the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction, choosing the right kind of addiction treatment is immensely important. Therefore, choosing a standard addiction treatment program for a young adult or teen is probably not going to be effective and may even be counterproductive. A failed attempt at drug rehab is likely to be a terrible setback to a recovering addict’s self-esteem. It may cause a relapse and issues with recovery attempts in the future. An important first step in achieving life-long sobriety is choosing the age-appropriate treatment program.

Age Considerations

Generally speaking, young adults need to learn life skills and how to break away from their parents who may still be financially supporting them. But, older adults need to re-learn relationship skills, most often with their significant other. Younger adults might also need educational support to begin a career, while older adults might be trying to protect that’s already in place or trying to have a sober retirement. Life situations and stresses such as these are better treated in an age-appropriate setting where group therapy and substance abuse education are targeted to the needs of the age group.

The tension caused by differences in generations, social attitudes and behaviors between older and younger adults only strengthen feelings of irritability and frustration among the participants. This ends up creating an atmosphere of “us vs. them.” An addiction treatment program that is age-specific is helpful in reducing such tension.

Why Young Adults Turn to Alcohol or Drugs

You’ve probably told your child that they shouldn’t smoke, drink alcohol, or use other substances. But despite your warnings, they did it and kept doing it. Can’t they see how harmful it is? The most likely answer is that substance use is solving a problem for them in spite of the risks.

Young adults and teens might experiment with substances at first for several reasons:

  • To fit in
  • To feel more confident
  • Curiosity

But with time and repeated use they may discover that substance use solves other problems for them like:

  • Coping with anxiety
  • Falling asleep
  • Keeping up with studies
  • Avoiding other problems

Your young adult is using substances because it solves a problem for them, not to drive you crazy or frustrate you. Consider that this is normal human behavior. Everyone repeats behaviors when there is something to be gained.

Some people work extra hours or jobs to meet their financial needs or desires. Other people may use their spare time to work out because they like the way it makes them look and feel. Still, others may go to a bar after work to relax and socialize. In any case, the reward, whether it’s money, health, or socialization, is the reason we repeat behaviors.

Substance Abuse as a Developmental Disorder

Studies at Yale University discovered that adolescents are more likely than any other age group to develop nicotine, alcohol, and other drug addictions because the areas of the brain that control impulse and motivation are not fully formed yet. Additionally, the researchers found that substance use disorders (SUDs) are, in fact, neurodevelopmental disorders (impairments in the growth and development of the brain).

Young adult drug users have special needs that come from their immature neurocognitive (the ability to think and reason)  and psychosocial (their own desires vs. the needs of others) level of development. Research has shown that the brain goes through an extended process of development and improvement from birth through early adulthood.

During this period of development, a young adult’s actions go from being more impulsive to being more reasoned and thoughtful. The fact is, the brain areas most closely associated with features of behavior such as:

  • judgment,
  • decision-making,
  • planning, and
  • Self-control

All go through a period of rapid development during adolescence and young adulthood.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Many developmental, physical, emotional, and social changes happen during the teen into young adulthood years. Compared to other stages of life, young adulthood is characterized by the highest rates of co-occurring substance use and psychiatric disorders. Mental health and substance use issues commonly first appear at this time. Young adult and adolescent substance abuse is often tied to other co-occurring mental health problems including:

  • attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),
  • oppositional defiant disorder (defiance toward authority figures),
  • conduct problems,
  • depressive and anxiety disorders, and
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences such as:
  • trauma
  • abuse and neglect,
  • death of a loved one, and
  • community violence.

Although most youth and young adults are able to function normally after stressful events, others may show symptoms related to trauma. Trauma is caused by experiences that cause extreme physical and psychological stress reactions. More than 66% of youth in the U.S. experience a traumatic event or circumstances by the age of 16 and many children experience ongoing trauma.

Effects of the Problem

rehab for young adults

People with co-occurring disorders typically experience more functional impairment, with more negative outcomes than people with a single disorder. Furthermore, youth and young adults who have been specifically diagnosed with co-occurring  SED (serious emotional disturbances), and substance use disorders (SUDs) are at a higher risk for:

  • suicidal thoughts and attempts
  • failure to graduate, and
  • early or unplanned pregnancy compared to others without a disorder or with one.

About 62% of people in the juvenile justice system meet the standards for at least one mental disorder. Out of these individuals, 61% had co-occurring substance use disorders. Likewise, youth and young adults who experience homelessness have a much higher occurrence of mental disorders and SUD than youth and young adults who have stable homes.

Addiction Treatment for Young Adults

Using a standardized tool to screen for SED and SUD helps treatment providers identify youth and young adults who might be at risk for co-occurring disorders. This helps them develop appropriate addiction treatment programs.

A complete assessment and history of the individual’s trauma, health history, and home life usually follows a positive screening. The results help providers determine the next steps and create a specific treatment to meet the individual’s needs.

Common Treatment Practices

Three of the common therapies for youth and young adults with addiction and co-occurring mental disorders include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a short-term goal-oriented talk therapy treatment that allows people with co-occurring mental and SUDs to recognize and understand their current problems and change their patterns of thinking and behavior.

It works by identifying and unlearning dysfunctional patterns of behavior, thinking, or emotional responses and replacing them with more effective behaviors. Studies show that CBT is effective for youth and young adults in the treatment of:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • SUD

Family Therapy

Family-based therapies refers to psychotherapy and specialized counseling that engages an individual along with their family members in therapy sessions and treatment planning. Family-based therapy recognizes that the management of an individual’s symptoms,  retention in treatment, and overall treatment response is shaped not only at the individual level, (for example, genetics and personal motivation) but also family-level factors (for example, home environment, interpersonal relationships).

Three controlled trials have shown effectiveness of family therapy for youth with a range of severity and type of SUD, but who don’t have a co-occurring mental illness. And another trial showed effectiveness for youth with mental disorders. A review of its effectiveness in treating youth and young adults with SUD alone found that it was slightly more effective than other treatments.


Physicians or other qualified healthcare professionals prescribe and supervise medications. They will determine the appropriate medication, dose and length of treatment for youth and young adults with co-occurring SUD and mental health disorders. Among youth and young adults, providers must monitor the patients for side effects, including lab tests. A big concern for some but not all medications is the potential for development of metabolic syndrome, clinical worsening

Especially among youth and young adults, providers must monitor individuals for side effects, including by laboratory testing. Of specific concern about some but not all medications is the possible development of metabolic syndrome (Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease and stroke ), clinical worsening, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, or unusual changes in behavior by the youth and young adult.

The best way to prevent side effects is to maintain close working communication between the professional prescribing the medication and the patient and guardian. This way, concerns and questions about possible and actual side effects can be discussed and addressed.

Treatment Programs

There are several treatment programs that can be used during the treatment of SUDs. The appropriate program depends on:

  • rthe severity of the addiction, and
  • the duration of the substance use, and
  • whether there is a co-occurring mental condition.

Residential or Inpatient Rehab

In a residential treatment program, the individual lives at the treatment facility and is free of the distractions of their prior drug or alcohol use. Residents are supervised 24-hours a day with access to medical help should it become necessary. This is particularly helpful to individuals who do not have a drug-free home to go to or have a serious co-occurring condition.

Outpatient Treatment Programs

Outpatient programs offer the chance to continue work or school obligations while attending treatment at the treatment center. This makes an outpatient program a good choice for rehab for young adults provided they have a stable and supportive home. Each program requires a different level of time commitment. Types of outpatient programs include:

  • Partial Hospitalization Program
  • Intensive Outpatient Program
  • Outpatient Program

BRC Healthcare for Rehab for Young Adults

BRC Healthcare can bring real change to the life of the young adult or adolescent you may be concerned about. This can bring real change to your life as well. We have a range of programs and therapies and can design a treatment program specifically to address the needs of your loved one. Don’t leave a decision this important to chance. Contact us today. We will be happy to answer your questions and we’re sure you have many. You need to talk. Talk to us.