This is a question that nearly all addicts face, especially those who are under the age of 40. Regular drinking and drug use has become somewhat of the norm in the past few decades, with people experimenting at younger ages than earlier generations did. This has resulted in a few outcomes, which has changed the dynamics of addiction, and the desire for people to get sober at younger ages.

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Why are so many young people addicted to drugs and alcohol?

To understand the uptick in addiction rates, you have to consider (at least a few) social changes that have paved the way for the increased rate in drinking and drug use among, most notably, teens and young adults. For starters, many “kids” are introduced to alcohol in their pre-teen or early teen years. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that in 2018, almost 30% of 15-year-olds reported having had an alcoholic drink in the last year. (https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics)

SAMHSA’s 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHFFR2017/NSDUHFFR2017.pdf) expanded upon their findings, noting that (in 2017) “About 7.4 million people aged 12 to 20 drank alcohol in the past month, including 4.5 million who were binge drinkers and 932,000 who were heavy drinkers,” illustrating that about 3 in 5 regular alcohol drinkers in this demographic were binge drinking. Statistics can only help paint a broad picture, but the findings tell us that binge drinking in this age segment is rampant, and probably related to group parties and social gatherings. Learning to binge drink with friends has become the most likely source of early alcohol abuse.

Many anti-drug campaigns have been used to explain the dangers of underage drinking, peer-pressure, drug experimentation and the resulting consequences. But that has not prevented the popularity of high school parties and unregulated drinking and drug use on college campuses. In fact, more people than ever are enrolled in some form of higher education, which is known for providing an environment ripe with alcohol and drug use. It is in these social settings that many people are drawn to regular alcohol and drug use, which lays of a foundation for regular use well into adulthood.

The pattern of addiction, then, is started as early as 12-15 years old for many Americans. If you consider the trajectory, it is easy to see how by the age of 22-25, someone may already be a heavy drinker for 10 years or more. And by 35, they could have a history of drinking that spans more than 20 years. Considering it only takes 10 years for the liver to develop Cirrhosis (with some estimate saying it takes as little as 8 years https://www.healthline.com/health/alcoholic-liver-cirrhosis#causes), it’s not entirely surprising that so many young people today are dealing with serious substance abuse problems in their twenties and thirties.

Young People and Trauma, Stress and Anxiety

Addiction is often a symptom of a greater issue. Many people use drugs and alcohol to help overcome their underlying psychosis that are causing them pain, stress and anxiety. And while our young population has never had more opportunity at their fingertips, the stress of performing, succeeding and achieving has never been greater. Even with our modern innovations, broad access to opportunities, and understanding of human psychology and physiology, it still will not prevent our high-functioning species from feeling the effects of stress, trauma, anxiety and depression.

It makes sense, then, that when “life gets hard”, gravitating to alcohol and drugs becomes the obvious solution. In addition to that, medications have been utilized (and in many cases overutilized) to help individuals deal with otherwise normal levels of stress and anxiety, especially during pivotal moments in a young person’s life. And we know, too, that when the pipeline to prescription medications gets turned off, people rely often on illicit drugs, perpetuating a downward spiral into life-threatening addiction.

This is why it’s more important now than ever to introduce our young people to the world of therapy and the diverse options for recovery that are accessible to them. These alternatives to drug use, especially prescription drug use, could help dramatically change the landscape of mental health and addiction.

To get sober or not to get sober . . .

For a young person, getting sober does present unique challenges, but also extraordinary benefits. Simply realizing that they have a “problem” is a first, and a major step in the right direction for finding a solution. When you are surrounded by normal drug use or binge drinking, it can be hard or impossible to see that you are dealing with your own mounting substance abuse problem.

A person in their teens and twenties is especially reluctant to get sober, as many of their friends and social networks are actively participating in regular alcohol use. And alcohol use is not limited to after-hours occasions with friends. Regular alcohol use now permeates the workforce. It can feel impossible to give up alcohol amongst friends or colleagues without feeling judged, not to mention the anxiety of remaining sober amongst active drinkers.

Sobriety and Success

Despite all the challenges of overcoming addiction, there is no greater benefit one can experience than to be able to get sober at a young age. The benefits of sobriety will permeate the entire life of the former addict, improving personal relationships, success, goal-setting and more.

Getting sober while still enrolled in school is an outstanding achievement, and one that helps the individual succeed in their academics. Academic success, of course, has profound implications for the individual’s self-esteem and boosts conviction as they enter the workforce. Academic success can also be achieved outside the traditional age brackets. Many former addicts have enrolled in college or trade schools in their 20’s and 30’s after achieving sobriety and have begun what turned into a long and successful career, founded on clearheaded thinking and a strong personal drive afforded by their program of recovery.

Getting sober at a young age will also have major implications on your career, goals and opportunities in the workforce. The principles of a program of recovery teach us incredible values about ourselves and the world around us. Utilizing these foundational principles, while improving on our relationship with ourselves, helps young people in recovery succeed exponentially more than their peers who have active drug or alcohol abuse patterns.

Finally, and possibly the most important segment that sobriety effects, are your relationships. Building a foundation in recovery requires introspection and usually enables the individual to tap into a more altruistic version of themselves. Finding peace, love and contentment with yourself allows you to repair and form better relationships with others in your life, including parents, siblings, friends and of course, partners.

And while no one can guarantee this, sobriety often does open the door for healthy and happy sexual relationships. Technology has undoubtedly changed the way we meet and date people. Egos have changed and social media culture is affecting how young people consider long-term relationships. It’s never been more important than now to be introspective and at peace with your own sense of self. Not only will recovery help you find harmony with yourself, but it will also prevent feelings of self-loathing, regret, guilt and remorse that has a tendency to push others away.

So, what is a good age to get sober?

Here is the thing. It can be difficult to be reflective on your life at a young age, say in your teens and twenties, and even in your thirties. By this age, you may have never considered the consequences of your actions, and how your choices have already affected your future. A mid-life crisis has a way of doing this for us in our 40’s and 50’s. But why wait until then to figure out that you are ready to change your life?

The answer is, you’re never too young to get sober. And with that said, you’re also never too old to get sober. You will not understand how much time you spend on a daily basis on your addiction until you stop. A sober addict finds that they are able to do in weeks what would have taken years in addiction. The reality is that when you get sober, you gain years out of your life.

For every year that you are sober, you will grow and succeed exponentially more than if you had stayed in a pattern of addiction. The real question then is, why not start now?

If you are looking to break the cycle of addiction, Lumiere Healing Centers of Ohio has a team ready to help you achieve long-term recovery. Our programs, therapists, clinicals and staff are trained to help you overcome your addiction and get sober for good. For more information about our program, or to inquiry about availability, please call 513-987-9392.