Being Young in Addiction Recovery

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What is high school without spiking the punch on prom night? Stealing sips from your parents’ liquor cabinet with a couple of your best friends; coughing up half a lung after sharing a joint under the bleachers during gym class? What is college without keggers, messy frat parties, and all night, Adderall-fueled study sessions? It might seem like drinking during young adulthood is a right of passage. Everyone else gets to do it, so why shouldn’t you? Well, some of us have the opportunity to find out early on how detrimental our relationship with chemical substances can be. Maybe you do spike the punch at prom night, and then promptly sneak out back, finish the remainder of the liquor, black out, and do something (who knows what) that prevents you from walking at graduation with the rest of your class. Maybe you do frequent keggers and frat parties — so often, in fact, that you get put on academic probation and eventually drop out of college altogether.

As the saying goes, “When you know, you know.” It might seem unfair to “have to” get sober at a young age, but in reality you will be saving yourself a lot of turmoil in the long run. When it comes to being young in addiction recovery, perspective is extremely important. It is entirely possible to have a fun, fulfilling, and incredible life as a young person in recovery. You might feel as if you are going to miss out on a lot, but all you’ll be missing are more black outs, mistakes, and avoidable regrets. If you are a young adult who has been struggling with a substance use disorder, Guardian Recovery is available to help. Contact us today to learn more about our age-specific treatment options.

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Am I Too Young to Get Sober?

If you are under 30 (maybe even if you’re well over 30) and you have been struggling to control your drinking or drug use, you might be wondering — am I too young to get sober? There is no age limit on sobriety. It is a good idea to enter into a program of recovery anytime you:

  • Experience significant personal problems as a direct result of your drinking or drug use.
  • Have tried to quit or cut back, but have found yourself unable to do so.
  • Have experienced health issues related to your substance use.
  • Can’t keep up with your school work or your work-related responsibilities because you are obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of your substance of choice.
  • Are self-medicating an underlying issue with chemical substances rather than seeking some degree of professional help.

When asking yourself if you are too young to get sober, try implementing the “play the tape through” rule that is often taught in recovery programs. Playing the tape through refers to honestly imagining what will happen if you fail to get sober now. What will the consequences be? Where will you realistically end up? If you put off getting sober now, what will the next few years look like. You might find that you are prolonging the inevitable. As a rule of thumb, it is a good idea to take action as soon as you recognize chemical substances are an issue. Addiction is a progressive medical condition. This means associated symptoms will continue to worsen in severity the longer they are left untreated.

The Best Time to Get Sober

When is the best time to get sober? The answer to this question is almost always, “As soon as you recognize you might have a problem with substance use.” How can you tell?

There is a list of diagnostic criteria laid out by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (also known as the DSM-V). If you have more than two of these criteria, there is a good chance that some degree of professional treatment has become necessary. These criteria are as follows:

  1. Taking a substance in larger quantities than you meant to for longer periods of time than intended.
  2. Trying to quit the substance on your own but being unable to do so.
  3. Spending a significant amount of time obtaining the substance, using the substance, and recovering from its effects (for example, nursing a hangover for a full day after binge drinking).
  4. Experiencing frequent cravings for your substance of choice.
  5. Failing to fulfill personal responsibilities and obligations because of your drug or alcohol use.
  6. Experiencing issues in your interpersonal relationships as a direct consequence of your drinking or drug use (concern from family members, frequent fights with a spouse, frustrated coworkers, etc).
  7. Neglecting activities and hobbies you previously enjoyed.
  8. Engaging in more risk-taking activities as a result of your substance use (like driving while intoxicated or engaging in promiscuous sex).
  9. Continuing to use your substance of choice despite a worsening physical or psychological issue.
  10. Developing a physical tolerance, meaning more of the substance is required in order for the desired effects to be achieved.
  11. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when substance use is stopped abruptly.

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Residential Treatment Programs for Young Adults

If you are a young adult struggling with a substance use disorder, there are several steps we recommend taking. First of all, it is a good idea to enter into a medical detox center while you undergo withdrawal.

While in medical detox you are treated by a team of licensed medical professionals with a combination of medication assisted treatment, therapeutic intervention, and holistic treatment options. Once you have been physically stabilized you will transition into a higher level of care. In the majority of cases, a residential treatment program for young adults is recommended. At Guardian Recovery we offer age-specific group workshops as part of our comprehensive curriculum of care. Addiction affects people of different ages differently. Many young adults face the same challenges in early sobriety, and age-specific care allows like-minded people to relate to one another while offering peer support and encouragement.

Outpatient Treatment & Aftercare

If you are struggling with a mild or moderate substance use disorder and no underlying issues, an outpatient treatment program might be an ideal treatment option. However, outpatient treatment most commonly serves as a step down level of care. In outpatient treatment, you continue with individual and group therapy as you begin to explore independent living. This provides an opportunity for continued personal growth, increased accountability, and ongoing peer support. Once you have completed medical detox, residential rehab, and intensive outpatient treatment, you will continue onto aftercare. In many cases this means a continuation of individual therapy, 12 Step program involvement, and continued psychiatric care if necessary. When it comes to being young in recovery, it is also important to figure out what you like to do for fun. Spend time with friends, pick up a new hobby, go to music shows with a group of sober supports, hike, play at the beach — the list goes on. It’s up to you to explore, knowing there is no limit on how much fun can be had!

Getting Help for Alcoholism & Drug Addiction

If you believe you might benefit from medical detox, inpatient treatment, or outpatient treatment, you are probably wondering what steps to take to get the help you need.

Because there are so many options when it comes to addiction recovery, you might be feeling overwhelmed. At Guardian Recovery we are available to help you navigate the decision making process. First, it is a good idea to determine which level of care is right for you. Next, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I looking for a treatment center that offers demographic specific care, like a track specifically designed for young adults like me?
  • Am I willing to travel out of state for addiction treatment? If so, will my insurance help cover associated costs?
  • Is the location of the treatment center in close proximity to a thriving recovery community? Is it close to job opportunities and recreational outlets?
  • Is the program both licensed and accredited? Are the staff members qualified and compassionate?

We know making this decision is not always a straightforward process. As soon as you contact us, either through our website or over the phone, we will walk you along every step of the way.

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If you have been struggling with drugs or alcohol, you are far from alone. Addiction does not discriminate, and people of every age, gender, occupation, and personal background are at risk of developing a substance use disorder. If you are a young adult, you might be worried that seeking help will mean the end of your social life — no more drinking, no more drugging, no more fun to be had. In reality, reaching out for help is the very beginning of a life beyond your wildest dreams. As soon as you make initial contact, Guardian Recovery will be there to guide you through the early recovery process. One of our Treatment Advisors will conduct a brief assessment and provide a free, no obligation insurance benefit check whenever necessary. We look forward to speaking with you and helping you get started on your own personal journey of addiction recovery.


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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.


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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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