It seems that very often, people who are just coming into sobriety appear to be emotionally stunted or emotionally immature. Newcomers to recovery will frequently find it difficult to cope with their emotions or take care of themselves and they may, at the drop of a hat, be willing to result to violence to handle interpersonal conflicts. All hallmarks of a person who at some point in their life stopped growing emotionally and somehow got stuck in a certain phase of development.
Being emotionally immature does not just seem to affect those people who are young in sobriety, but it extends to people who are well into their 40s and 50s. This would seem to suggest that there is something going on that causes this. It appears that something within either the physical, social or behavioral makeup of addiction causes an individual to be emotionally immature to the point where they very often find it difficult to deal with life.
It’s interesting because it is hard to say whether being emotionally immature predates the addiction and actually helps cause its onset or whether it is caused by the individuals never learning coping skills due to the fact that they use drugs and alcohol to mask anything that is uncomfortable.
So let’s take a look at why people are very often emotionally immature in early sobriety and how this changes over the course of recovery.
What Causes Addicts to be Emotionally Immature?
It isn’t just one singular thing that usually causes an addict in early recovery to be emotionally immature, but usually, it is the convergence of a number of different factors. These factors range from the physiology of the brain to the psychological aspects of using drugs, to just a general fear of growing up, but what they result in, is an emotionally immature individual who at the onset of recovery has to learn certain life skills that should have been acquired years before.
Drug and Alcohol Use Stunts Emotional Development
It has long been said that if you start abusing substances at an early age, you actually stunt your brain’s ability to develop in a normal manner. This seems to make sense because introducing powerful substances into your body at unusually high levels for an extended period of time is bound to have consequences, but beyond just changing certain aspects of the brain, like dopamine production, drug usage actually does physically stunt the brain’s ability to develop.
A study at the University of Georgia, using brain imagining technology, was actually able to see just how much alcohol and drug abuse affected the brain, and how once drug or alcohol abuse started, the brain no longer advanced out of its current phase of development.
Using Drugs and Alcohol to Cope with Life
Part of maturing is learning to navigate the often-murky waters of life. This means learning how to deal with difficult individuals like bosses or co-workers, and it means learning to process your emotions in a manner where they don’t destroy you. A person who is emotionally mature may be able to experience a profoundly difficult situation and still be able to operate within the normal context of their life, whereas as a person who is emotionally immature may not be able to.
Since many people who abuse drugs and alcohol do so as a way to cope with certain aspects of their life, often times they do not develop any life skills beyond getting high or drunk. What this means is that they do not mature developmentally because they have no need to.
Unfortunately, once the alcohol and drugs are removed, they are often left floundering initially as they attempt to amass new coping skills that will allow them to deal with life as it comes at them, and not have to resort to drugs or alcohol as a means of managing.
Fear of Growing Up
Often times, people who do not develop an addiction in their teenage years will develop it during their college years. This is usually attributed to the fact that in college, drugs and alcohol are bound, and since they are away from their parents, they have a new found freedom that allows them to experiment. While all of this is true, it is important to note that there is something else going on here as well and that is a fear of growing up.
While many people fear growing up, people who develop an addiction often fear it more so than the normal individual. This is why during college, they may choose to use drugs and drink all day, rather than attend class. They do this not so much out of laziness but as a means to not have to have to deal with adult issues and not have to move on to the next phase of development in their life.
Overcoming Emotional Immaturity
Recovery is really the best place to combat the emotional immaturity that comes with drug and alcohol addiction. In recovery, a person will learn new coping skills for dealing with their life and they will learn discipline and responsibility, two things that are often lacking. This transformation from emotionally stunted to emotionally mature takes some time, but it usually always occurs if a person is willing to work towards it.
So if you are just coming into recovery and you are having a tough time dealing with your emotions or dealing with ‘adulting,’ don’t fret, give yourself some time to develop and you will be just fine.
Seeking Treatment for Alcoholism and Addiction
If you or a loved one has a problem with alcoholism or addiction, and want to experience recovery in a thriving community with lots of people just like you, then call the professionals at Dream Center for Recovery today at 1-877-978-3148. Our trained staff is standing by to take your call and help you in any way we can. We know how difficult of a decision this can be and we know what it takes to ensure you find your own personal path to recovery. You no longer have to do it alone, so give us a call today and find the happy and sober life you’ve always dreamed of.