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5 Reasons young adults struggle to stay in treatment

By Stephen C. Schultz


Many young adults in today’s society, those who are 18 to 26 years old, find themselves contemplating mental health treatment of some kind. This self- realization comes to them because they are struggling in college to maintain good grades while partying throughout the week. There are some who simply flunk out of school and go back to live with mom and dad. Still others graduate high school, live with their parents and move from job to job never really making that transition into adulthood.



When partying and gaming take over their lives, these young adults start getting pressure from family to turn their life around. Their behaviors start to affect family relationships.  They may also suffer from bouts with depression, anxiety or other emotional issues that are symptomatic of their situation. It turns into the typical “Failure to Launch” syndrome.

When things get bad enough or when there is enough pressure from family to take care of the problem, these young adults will seek help. Often they start seeing an outpatient therapist in their community. Sometimes, things are bad enough that they seek help from a residential treatment program like a drug & alcohol rehab or mental health facility.

It is widely known throughout the treatment community that the majority of young adults who enter treatment also drop out of treatment before completion. There are many clinically complicated reasons why this is so, but here are the five most common reasons that young adults fail to complete treatment.



1) Difficult Detox

When substances such as drugs or alcohol are consumed, the body builds up a “tolerance” to having the substance in our body. When use is stopped, the body has to readjust to not having the substance in us anymore. This readjustment is called “withdrawal”. Withdrawal symptoms may include shakes, nausea, headaches, dizziness, rapid heart rate, sweats, body aches and in severe cases seizures and or hallucinations. Withdrawal from alcohol can be fatal and is often done in a medical setting.
At the first signs of discomfort, many young adults simply decide they are not ready for treatment and would rather continue using than go through the pain of detox.

2) I’m not like these people

By the time young adults get to the place where they are pressured to get treatment, they generally have a “center of the universe” attitude about themselves. They also tend to minimize the issues they are struggling with. Therefore, they look around at others who are in treatment, whether it’s in the waiting room of their therapist or the group room of a residential center and say to themselves, “I’m not as bad off as these people. I don’t need to be here. Mom and dad are just wasting their money on this treatment.”

3) The therapist is mean

When working on any mental health or emotional issues, the “therapeutic alliance” that is developed is the key to a positive outcome. However, the therapist isn’t there to be a friend, but they are there to ask some difficult questions. Their job is to have the client take a difficult look at some very painful aspects of their life. Often, when emotional pain starts to surface, the therapist is seen as the cause of that pain. Many young adults mistakenly blame the therapist for their pain rather than recognize it is a consequence of their own behavior and choices.

4) Day after day is the same. I’m not learning anything.

Participating in therapy is often a long and arduous process. These young adults are used to moving through life from one exciting “event” to another. They are constantly chasing the next “high”, whether it is through substances, exciting activities or both. However, the life of most productive, responsible adult members of society is not moving from one “high” to another, but managing and bringing meaning to the mundane activities of daily life. For example; getting up every day and going to work…on time. It’s getting the kids ready for school…each day. There is grocery shopping and homework. College students spend structured time studying, writing the paper and including the footnotes!

When therapy forces the young adult to try and bring meaning to the mundane activities of life, they often leave treatment with the excuse; “Therapy is boring. I’m not learning anything. It’s the same every time I go.”

5) I know what I need to know.

Once a young adult enters treatment, the most difficult aspect of therapy is getting them to be in touch with their emotions. Emotions can be painful to experience if there has been drug or alcohol abuse, trauma and family discord. Therefore, the young adult enters treatment thinking they are there to “learn stuff” and then be done. This mindset reflects the attitude that it’s to be learned in their head and not their heart. There are many who become therapy “wise” but fail to integrate and apply the knowledge in daily life.



Stephen Schultz was born and raised in Eugene, Oregon. He graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in psychology and was trained and worked in addictions counselling. He spent several years in administration of clinical services, operations and marketing. He currently enjoys administrative responsibilities with the RedCliff Ascent, Medicine Wheel, Discovery Academy, Discovery Ranch for Boys, Discovery Ranch for Girls, Discovery Connections and Oxbow Academy.


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