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In America today, more and more young men are becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol. What is even more troubling is that the age of initial use is becoming younger, particularly among late teenagers and young adults. Their reasons for using come from a wide spectrum of thoughts and feelings: “Everyone else is doing it.” “My family doesn’t understand me.” “My girlfriend broke up with me.” “I’m finally independent.” And the reasons go on and on.

Now for some men in this age group, treatment has been made available to them to assist in addressing this problem. They go to a treatment center for 30, 60, 90 days, or even longer. When treatment has been completed, they return to their families who believe that they have now been “fixed” and can resume normal daily activities just as before. But in some cases, these families are in for a rude awakening.

As with recovering addicts who are older, the risk for relapse in young men is extremely high. It’s been said that for every 10 addicts who get clean, 1 or 2 will stay clean. So how is it that the remaining 8 or 9 end up back into their old ways? Why don’t they get it? These are questions that hopefully we can begin to answer here. We’ll look at what doesn’t work in treatment and what does work.

What Doesn’t Work

Being “Overly Confrontational”:

Programs that use a “boot camp” mentality to get young men towards sobriety through insistence and intimidation can do more harm than good. That is because they can further damage a young man’s self-esteem, which could become a gateway to relapse. A young man in this position will complete treatment to satisfy their parents or the courts, but shortly after will go right back to old addictive behaviors.

Focusing solely on substance abuse:

A young man that is using substances is more than likely doing so to mask other problems they are going through. Dr. Jo-Anne Blyss, clinical director of a drug rehab center in Florida and creator of a specialized program for young men with a history of relapse, noted that as many as 70 percent of the young men she treats in her program have other issues such as ADHD, depression, oppositional defiant disorder, and PTSD. Failing to address these issues and showing them how these issues are closely associated with their substance abuse can lead them to relapse.

Expecting young men to think they have it all figured out:

Many treatment programs assume that young men will have developed certain fundamental skills when in reality they have not. This is because they have spent a good part of their teenage years drinking and using drugs. Physically they may be in their early twenties, but emotionally they are stuck in their early teens.

Treating addiction as an “acute illness”:

Many people believe that going to substance abuse treatment is the addiction “cure”. But in reality, it is nothing more than a first step. This is only the beginning, not the end.

Failing to prescribe proper medication:

Many treatment centers have a lack of confidence or enthusiasm when it comes to prescribing medication that can help in early recovery. For example, many treatment centers are quick to prescribe Suboxone before looking at other options. Although Suboxone can be helpful during detox and as a medication for maintenance, it can also be habit forming.

What Does Work

Developing their internal motivation for change:

Treatment programs should be working alongside young men to help them find solutions that make sense to them. Rather than silencing them, treatment centers should promote a safe atmosphere for young men to be more open and vulnerable about their thoughts and feelings.

Dual diagnosis is where it’s at:

Being able to treat substance abuse and co-occurring mental health issues simultaneously goes a long way in increasing the likelihood for success in treatment. A good treatment center will have a group of professionals from different disciplines working together at the same time.

A rebuild is in the works:

Their best thinking got them to this point in their lives. Young men in treatment will need to learn skills “from the ground up”. Those who have relapsed more than once need more than just education. They need experience to deal with life on life’s terms so they can be able to manage emotional responses in preparation for life after treatment. A primary goal in treatment should be to develop a tolerance for stress and effective communication.

Remember it’s a marathon and not a sprint:

Once a young man is done with his initial treatment, he needs to realize that it is just a stepping stone towards positive change. Now the real work on maintaining a clean and sober lifestyle begins. This involves being a part of a recovering community that consists of support groups and having a sponsor. It may also require seeking additional treatment if needed. Dealing with potential relapse triggers and warning signs does not come in 30, 60, or 90 days. This needs to be worked on throughout one’s lifetime.

Finding the right medication that can work:

There are a number of medications that are non-addictive which have been proven in clinical studies to be safe and effective. Medications that can help “block” the high and decrease the desire to use drugs and alcohol. These medications can help people stay involved with treatment and allow them to get back in their recovery program if a relapse does occur.


Addiction is a disease that is chronic and progressive. A successful recovery is not necessarily one that goes perfectly. However, it does provide the needed tools to equip young men so they can pause, reach out for help, and get back into their recovery program should they “slip up” and relapse. When looking for the right treatment center, it is extremely important to do some research and find one that focuses on the things that work. Doing so can very well mean the difference between life and death.