After Rehab: A Sobriety Plan for Young Adults

By Frank Sanchez, PhD, LMFT, Clinical Director, Promises Young Adults Program Rehab is just the start of the recovery process from a drug or alcohol problem. It’s important to have a plan in place that can help people navigate real life when residential treatment is completed. Recovery for the young adult population is very different than recovery for adults or adolescents. Residential treatment can help them get on track because they are at a stage in life where they may not be young enough to have the shelter of family and they have not yet lived mature, adult lives. Special situations include:

  • The brain is not fully developed. Individuals are launched into adulthood without their prefrontal cortex being completely developed. They have difficulty bringing both logic as well as emotions into the decision-making process. They can hold either one or the other, but not both at the same time. Clinicians have to work with a young adult’s emotional intelligence, knowing that the prefrontal cortex is a work in progress.
  • It’s difficult for them to go back. It is not uncommon to have problem relationships with family with whom they were living.  There are many unresolved problems that need to be addressed.  If they return to the same social group in their old community, they’ll get pulled back into past behaviors. To avert this, young adults often require some type of reset in their daily living.
  • Staying sober may require a big change. For young people in recovery in many cities across the nation, there are not a lot of people their age at AA meetings. Many individuals flock to California or Florida for treatment to be around a large, young sober community that they identify with. After drug rehab, the plan might include transferring from one home or one city to another. In a large city like Los Angeles, young adults can more easily develop new relationships. It requires the willingness to let go of the past and to bring in the new. They are still young enough to adapt to major changes.

Important Tools for Staying Sober

The first commitment is sobriety ― and the willingness to stay free from mind-altering substances. To accomplish this, individuals need support. These are the areas Promises focuses on with clients to give them the best chance of staying healthy upon leaving rehab:

  1. Emotional health. It is important to assess each individual’s emotional maturity and determine whether they can cope with stress and difficult emotions like anger and anxiety.
  2. Mental health. Diagnosing and treatment are key. A psychiatrist must be made available as well as proper medication. Clarifying the treatment needed to create an ongoing mental health plan is essential. 
  3. Life skills. This is especially significant for young adults. They can range from looking for a job to washing laundry. It is important to assess where each client is (do they know how to apply for a job and what to say during an interview?) and what skills are needed to improve their functioning in the community.
  4. Studies show exercise is important at all stages in recovery. It is a healthy outlet that can ease stress and anxiety. It helps create the mind-body connection as well as balance the brain and release endorphins. It’s also a great way for people to learn how to keep busy and give them alternate activities. Boredom is difficult for somebody in recovery because it can lead to using.
  5. Healthy environment. A young adult in recovery needs help in figuring out the healthiest place to live. Where can they establish a life that’s going to be away from toxic friends and family, yet close enough to their sober community and healthy relationships that they have continuous support?

If we can fill their time with meetings, job interviews, taking care of their health and having a positive body image, they have a far better chance of sustaining long-term recovery.

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