In a recent conversation with TikToker Brandi Mac, Intervention On Call’s Sam Davis discussed the impact of substance abuse on mental development. “I’m 49 years old… maturity-wise, I may be pushing 30 now,” said Davis. “When you start using, you stop maturing.” Why do heavy drinking and drug use stunt mental growth? Today, we’ll explore the relationship between addiction and maturity.
Addiction and Maturity
Failure to launch, arrested development, immaturity—experts have a variety of terms for the stunted growth that comes with alcohol and drug abuse. While many people assume that immature people are attracted to substances, the truth is that anyone can develop a substance use disorder. Experts attribute the gap between addicted individuals and their non-addicted peers to neurobiology.
Through a series of PET scans, Dr. Merrill Norton of the University of Georgia College of Pharmacy sought to document the physical changes caused by addiction. He found that many people begin experimenting with alcohol or drugs during the critical period of adolescence. At this age, the brain has a high level of plasticity: the ability to change its structure when we have new experiences.
“During peaks of plasticity, the brain must make key neural connections to wire us to become responsible, thoughtful, intelligent adults,” wrote Dr. Norton. Drinking or using drugs at this time damages the brain’s wiring, stunting growth and cementing harmful habits.
Experimenting in adolescence teaches teens the wrong lessons. They find that drinking or using helps them avoid painful emotions, or that they can overcome stress by partying. As they focus on substance abuse, they also miss out on crucial social reinforcement and learning opportunities. Finally, addiction creates a loop of substance-seeking, using, and recovering from substance use. The result is a selfish, immature person who prioritizes drinking or using above everything else. Fortunately, addictionologists have created treatment measures that address the lack of maturity in addicted individuals.
Life Skills in Early Recovery
To promote maturity, many addiction treatment centers focus on the development of life skills. They accomplish this through rigid structure, tailored workshops, and targeted rules. For example, addicted individuals tend to struggle with punctuality, often arriving hours after an agreed-upon time—if they show up at all.
“Trying to get me somewhere on time while in active addiction was a daunting task. I did not value your time at all. It was all about me,” explained Intervention On Call founder Sam Davis. “When I found myself in a long-term program that’s like the Navy SEALs of treatment centers, they had a rule that I had to be five minutes early or I was late. If I broke that rule, the entire community had to show up ten minutes early with me… It raised my awareness that my actions affected others, and it established habits.”
Life skills education is especially crucial for younger people seeking to establish independence. If they were in active addiction during key developmental periods, treatment can help them fill the gaps and prepare for a future of sobriety.
Life skills learned in rehab include:
- Cleaning and maintaining a home
- Applying for jobs
- Communicating clearly and effectively
- Preparing healthy meals
- Conflict resolution
- Stress management
- Emotional regulation
- Impulse control
- Grocery shopping
- Goal setting
Breaking the Cycle and Developing Maturity
If your loved one seems stuck at the age when they began using, you’re not alone. There is hope. Intervention On Call offers accessible, affordable consultations with licensed interventionists. Our expert staff members can help you structure and plan an effective intervention tailored to your loved one’s situation. Meet our interventionists or contact us to get started today.