Failure To Launch Syndrome - The Not So Sexy Truth About Many Young Adults In Addiction Recovery
Updated: Feb 3
With the country in the grip of an opioid epidemic, drug overdose has become the leading cause of accidental death in United States. For many people, struggling with their specific issues and the universal stressors we all face, this addiction begins impacting their lives sometime during high school. It follows, unsurprisingly, that young adults make up the largest percentage of those struggling with this addiction.
Many parents find themselves with adult children returning from addiction treatment programs lacking basic, adult life skills. These men and women must stay with their families just to get by. Mothers and fathers still love their sick children, however, and their well-intentioned but misguided attempts to help the child allow enabling to creep its way in to the equation.
This often results in a syndrome known as “failure to launch”. Without even knowing it, parents begin enabling their behaviors and feeding their addiction.
Failure To Launch
The term that describes young adults who face barriers and struggles during the transitional period from adolescence to adulthood. Instead of taking vital steps that help transition adolescents into adulthood, they are primarily focused on how to feed their addiction. This prevents them from being able to become responsible adults and impacts their ability to practice ethical decision making.
A lot of the time, individuals struggling with addiction lack the basic life skills necessary to becoming an independent adult and they struggle to mature and become productive members of society. A lot of times they barely graduate college, stay at home, living with their parents. They may get a minimum wage job and often rely on others for a lot of their basic needs.
For a lot of these families it becomes about survival and making the family member in recovery comfortable. Parents do not want to push their addicted kids fear how they may react and wind up doing what they can to just appease the addict, and keep them calm. This sort of behavior can lead to "loving your child to death" or, even worse, a life sentence of merely just existing.
Most people using drugs are being enabled by someone and they are not focusing on their future and how to take care of adult responsibilities. There is not much consideration for saving money for retirement, 401ks, or how to properly file their taxes. Many times, people in the grip of active addiction are looking for shortcuts and quick ways to get money. They may have someone in their family who supports them (and their addiction) financially or they may try to get handouts from the government. Other times, they put things on credit which can lead to a lot of debt and collections.
When you are using, the last thing you are concerned about is paying a bill on time and credit cards seem like free money. I remember getting bills and just throwing them in the trashcan. Today, I can’t even imagine doing something like that. What I did not realize at the time is that this is literally theft and will follow you for years, impacting your credit score.
By the time young adults enter a rehabilitation program for addiction, they do not even have a decent resume to turn into an employer when it comes time to start looking for a job. Parents have spent so many years just trying to keep their children alive that all other aspects of life seem to fall by the wayside. It becomes about survival, not responsibility. Treatment programs and halfway houses help separate the family from the person struggling with their addiction, which allows everyone to heal. A lot of halfway houses provide resources when it comes to "adulting," in an effort to help clients begin to learn how to take responsibility for their own lives.
Parents may try to get in there and help their recovery child get a good job or figure out how to clean up the wreckage from the past. However, addiction recovery programs specializing in adult life skill development strongly suggest the best thing for a parent to do is to take a step back and let their child figure it out with the support of their recovery community. Allowing a recovering addict to take responsibility and initiative gives them a sense of purpose and shows them that they are capable of making it in the real world.
Halfway houses that are run by individuals who are in recovery can also be helpful. The managers have first-hand experience when it comes to some of the obstacles that their clients are facing. I spent about a year in a residential program which was enough time for me to figure what I wanted to do with my life and start getting back on track.
I personally believe that unless it is absolutely necessary, anything over a year in treatment may prevent individuals from fully maturing and progressing toward adulthood.
In a sense, treatment is somewhat enabling. It protects people from the real world and takes them away from a lot of their responsibilities. Most of the time this is necessary in order for a person to get well and recover. But staying in treatment for years is avoiding life, and treatment can become the new norm and the only place people are willing to stay sober. It is important to take advantage of the time you have in treatment and then move forward.
It was very overwhelming for me when I started to clear up and began to realize how other’s lives looked in comparison to mine. I saw people vacationing in other countries, providing for their children and pets, and buying their first homes. I was barely able to get by on the money I was making at my first job out of treatment and I felt very inferior. I felt like I had missed the boat and that I missed the entire class on how to become an adult - a class everyone else had clearly taken. I am sure that I expected everything to fall into my lap like it always had but for the first time I wanted to make an effort and take steps to ensure my independence. I knew that the first step was to finish my education and ask for help when I needed it. As long as I was doing the best I could, it was okay to reach out for help from time to time. There is a big difference between enabling and support. It is kind of something that every family has to figure out for themselves.
My time in treatment was spent learning about simple things like vehicle registrations and how to handle a credit card and bank account. I also worked on getting my license back and paying old tickets that I thought would just disappear. I learned how to live on a budget and not overspend. I had been so consumed in my addiction that I lacked basic skill sets, like cooking and cleaning.
The halfway house I was in forced me to take initiative and participate in life. I learned how to cook meals for a group of people and consistently wake up at a reasonable time of day to an alarm clock. I was in for a big wake-up call when I was removed from my father's insurance policy at the age of 26. I had to learn how to navigate health insurance and was hit with the reality of how expensive it was. I also started paying my own car insurance for the first time and, with the help of my husband, I was able to lease my first brand new car.
A lot of people I went through treatment with were in the same boat as me and it was nice to know I was not alone. We had spent a long time in a different kind of reality and life was catching up to us as we were getting older.
I had been in treatment since I was 22 and anytime between treatment was a big blur. It was like, all of sudden, I woke up from my drug induced existence and was 27 years old. I had wasted years and years of my life doing absolutely nothing. I could either dwell in this pity or I could take steps to reclaim my life and do something productive.
I spoke to one of my friends I went to treatment with about her experience with this and she had a few things to say on the subject. “Being in treatment at 21 and 22 years old gave me different feelings. Sometimes I feel like I wasn’t afforded that time period where you can explore different majors and career paths when it comes to higher education. As a result, I have a degree in a field that I do not want to work in because I felt all this pressure to get out, to be an adult, to get a job, and just get it done. However, without the resources that I was given while I was in treatment, I wouldn’t even have a degree - who knows what I would be doing now? I am grateful for the bachelor’s degree I have because it makes me more employable but now I need to work out the kinks and figure out what I really want to do with the rest of my life.”
Again, it is nice to have friends who are in the same boat as me because we can help encourage one another and celebrate our accomplishments. I also enjoy working with sponsees who are trying to figure out this whole "adulting" thing and I know I am able to be helpful because I have been there. Treatment allows a person to fully heal, and that means learning how to properly navigate life and launching into adulthood. Expectations that were put on me in treatment helped me realize what I was capable of. It took a long time in recovery to finally begin to feel like I was starting to catch up but, at the same time, I do not need to catch up to anyone. I am happy with my life and I look forward to everything I will be afforded through staying sober.
Who's The Author:
Ally Lacey Maguire is a student at Georgia Southern University. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in the clinical/mental health counseling program. Ally just celebrated 4 years of recovery and recently got married. Ally enjoys writing about her experiences in active addition and what her recovery looks like today. Ally works for the center for addiction recovery at Georgia Southern University and is passionate about working with others and sharing the message of recovery.
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