Breaking the Cycle of Hopelessness

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Breaking the Cycle of Hopelessness

By The Fix staff 04/23/18
Many young people start abusing drugs from a place of hopelessness, and continue until they understand that life can get better.
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A young man sitting on stairs, looking into distance.

We like to think that young people have a world of potential lying at their feet. However, this can be hard for many young people to see, as they become bogged down in feelings of not being good enough, smart enough or loved enough. When teens and even preteens feel that they don’t have good options in life they can turn to a negative coping strategy: escaping their pain through drug use.

Once substance abuse begins, it often sets in motion a cycle of despair that can push people further away from recovery, says Patricia Wallace, a licensed alcohol and drug counselor and the clinical director at Soba College Recovery, a treatment program for young adults in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

“Many people, especially young people, are continuing to use drugs because they feel that their life will never be the same again or never get better,” Wallace says.

Escaping Emotion, but Being Pushed Further Away from Hope

Hopelessness that many young drug users feel is complicated by the feelings of guilt that addiction can bring up. If someone with substance use disorder hurts a loved one or otherwise acts against their morals in order to get more drugs, it can make them feel even more hopeless.

This is especially true for young people, who have not learned how to cope effectively with the stressors in life without using drugs.

“The emotional, cognitive and intellectual development is all arrested at the time that drugs are brought into the mix because the individual no longer has an ability to cultivate natural ways of coping with life,” Wallace explains.

For teens, this often means that the idea of getting sober — and sorting through all their complicated and painful emotions — is too much to face.

“The clarity of mind and emotions become too much and make them use substances more,” Wallace says.

It can also be nearly impossible for young people to imagine life without drugs if they have used since they were pre-teens.

“Young people often feel like there’s nothing else in life because they haven’t yet lived beyond drug use,” Wallace explains. “When substances are removed feelings of hopelessness can come from feeling like there’s no way to get through life without the substance. The void that emerges after drugs are taken out is such a desperate, hopeless feeling that someone can feel as if they want to die, or they don’t want to go on.”

Rebuilding Hope

At Soba College Recovery, many people enter the treatment program not because they’ve found a sliver of hope for the future, but because they’ve been compelled by outside forces, like the legal system. Despite this, Wallace and the rest of the staff at Soba College are able to use these external motivators to help clients connect with a sense of hope, which in turn motivates them to engage with the treatment process.

One of the first steps is addressing the concerns that many young people have when they stop using drugs. Clients often come in questioning: What is life about without drugs? How will I be able to have fun? How will I define myself without these substances?

During individual and group therapy sessions, clients are encouraged to explore the answers to these questions in order to find out who they really outside of addiction.

“We’re starting to build on who am I? Can I love myself? Can I have others in my life who love me? How can I communicate with them effectively? How can I cope with and regulate my own emotions without drugs?” Wallace says.

Although the questions are daunting at first, once a client begins to connect with answers, they are able to reestablish hope for a sober and healthy future, perhaps for the first time.

“Once they’re starting to see that these things are possible, that helps the person to develop more hope,” Wallace says.

Eventually, clients build up their self-esteem, and are able to separate who they are from the disease of addiction. Once that happens, they are able to forgive themselves for the pain that their disease caused themselves and their loved ones and plan for a life without substance abuse.

Soba College Recovery is an addiction treatment center for young adults in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Connect with them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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