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An army of young advocates

October 29, 2012
by Sarah Nerad and Danielle Tarino
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Young People in Recovery share what worked for them in treatment

Each individual liked the fact that treatment offered an outlet to meet with other individuals who were struggling with substance use disorders and seeking recovery. One downside to this was that most YPR members were not among other clients in their age group. YPR member Alison Carlin says that she would have benefited from being around others in her age range and that “most other clients were as old as my parents.”

Peer-to-peer support services would allow young people in treatment centers to relate to those who have been in a similar situation, as well as to meet peers who have made recovery a reality. YPR member Justin Luke Riley says that “not a single treatment program I went to had anything to offer to young people specifically.”

A major pillar of recovery that is not utilized in treatment is leadership and service work. After stays in two residential treatment centers and three mental health facilities, Riley was “never given an opportunity to lead or give back to the programs and people I was a part of.” Riley goes on to say that what really made a lasting impact on his recovery was altruism and being able to grow as a leader.

A positive from Sarah Nerad’s treatment experience was that she continued to face consequences during treatment. She says that her treatment center “didn’t continue to enable me or let me run on self-will. I had to get with the program just like everyone else. They had no problem asking someone to leave the program that was toxic to the group. That was a great example to me of how serious this really is and that there are real-world consequences if I continue to live my life how I was.”

Teaching young people about the realistic consequences, and not sugarcoating the reality of the life of someone who is using, can make the difference in how young people perceive the message of substance abuse treatment.

Many young people find that too much emphasis is often placed on standard aftercare vs. a true “recovery plan.” Devin Fox noticed this and felt that aftercare was pushed on him regardless of whether that was the next best step for him. Young people need to be set up for success and have a long-term plan for how they are going to take back their life.

Focus needs to be put on areas such as life skills, career planning and professional development. The ability to find a job, bring in a livable income, or perform well in school greatly increases one’s personal investment in and enthusiasm for recovery. Helping young people to find a purpose in life that is meaningful and fulfilling is vital to their success. It is never too late to ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Creating opportunities