Opening the Door

Rays of light through the open white door on blue wall

Addicts remove their ability to connect when their entire life is centered on substances.

Young adults are seekers, questioning notions and practices they were raised with, such as religion. Throw addiction into the mix and young adults are faced with a double platform, one where they are already questioning and one where addiction moves them even further away from connecting to others.

On top of that, an emerging challenge in this population relates to an increase in social anxiety. “With the college age population I work with, regardless of their addiction, they are trying to gain their independence, and there is a lot of social anxiety,” says Greg Cox, LSW, CADC, and a primary counselor at New Hope Recovery Center in Chicago. The anxiety plays into lowering inhibitions and fears about connecting with other people.

Recovery is an opportunity to redefine connections, where the shame of addiction can be counterbalanced with spirituality, for example. By working through the shame and chipping away at feelings of negative self-worth, young adults can turn those feelings into resiliency and self-compassion. They can come to believe they are deserving of living a sober life and begin seeing other opportunities.

“Addiction becomes predictable and rigid,” Cox says. He notes active addiction is survival oriented, where the brain is rewired to seek out drugs and alcohol. It becomes the No. 1 priority and prevents the addict from choosing anything but the objects of his or her addiction. It also removes the capacity to have intimate, loving relationships, as well as being a spiritual human being.

“Addiction takes away our spirituality, and, breaking that down even further, addiction takes away our ability to experience wonder and awe,” Cox says. “We aren’t able to take risks, change or grow or experience things.” Wonder and awe don’t have to come from some monumental event, but rather from ordinary events and experiences, such as taking the time to recognize the beauty of every-day objects.

The practice of spirituality

Located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago, the New Hope Recovery Center offers an intensive outpatient program and residential day treatment, among other services. The center is one of three recognized LGBT recovery centers in the city. Treatment is offered to those 18 years and older, including those who identify as LGBT. Although not 12-step based, the center’s staff endorses these programs and alternate treatment methods, which is something “we see in common with the young adult and LGBT community,” Cox says.

He counsels young adults early in the recovery process, from zero to three months. At that stage, it can be difficult for those coming out of addiction to hear people say things such as “give things a little more time.” “I like to give them something they can experience today and right away that can make things more mindful, bring them to the here and now,” Cox says. “It doesn’t have to be a large event. Pick up on the small things, be clear headed and connected, building on those relationships, having the ability to grow and change.”

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