Helping Young Adults Get Excited About Recovery

By The Fix staff 09/18/17

For people in their teens and early 20’s, a lifetime of sobriety doesn’t have to be intimidating.

young adults holding hands and extending hands
Paradigm Malibu is a treatment center that specializes in helping adolescents navigate the difficult path of recovery.

September is National Recovery Month, when we celebrate people who have left behind addiction and opted to live a life in recovery. For the youngest people in recovery, committing to decades of sobriety can seem intimidating, but the professionals at Paradigm Malibu, an adolescent treatment center, work to make recovery a positive choice for all their patients.

Defining Recovery 

The patients at Paradigm Malibu are treated for:

Because clients are treated for different types of disorders, there is no one example of what recovery looks like. However, there is a common goal that they are all working toward.

“It’s all about helping people achieve their full potential,” said Cole Rucker, founder and CEO of Paradigm Malibu. “We’re helping young people look at what life they want to have and establish a path for getting there.”

Many young patients want to know if they will have to abstain from drug and particularly alcohol use for the rest of their lives. Rucker said that patients answer that question by working with professionals. For teens who genuinely struggle with substance use disorder and are truly powerless over their substances, full sobriety is the best course of action. However, a lot of teen drug use and substance abuse is more complicated than that.

“We have to look at why people are using and separate out what is substance abuse versus addiction versus self medication,” Rucker said.

Getting to the root cause of the substance use can help define recovery. For example, a teen who smokes marijuana to self-medicate anxiety might be able to responsibly drink as an adult once her mental health is stabilized.

“I wouldn’t say that a young person who comes in smoking pot for anxiety won’t be able to have a glass of wine with dinner as an adult,” Rucker said. “But if someone is truly powerless over a substance that’s something different.”

Ultimately, whether someone is entirely sober isn’t as important as whether they are happy and healthy.

“Our focus is abstinence, but we don’t want to see people white knuckling it,” Rucker said. “There are so many people in recovery who never find serenity, never find their happiness. We want patients to know it’s possible to become centered and self-actualized.”

Changing the Conversation About Recovery

Rather than emphasizing the substances and experiences that sober people are giving up, young people and their support systems should instead look to what they are gaining in recovery.

“It’s important to emphasize how exciting and wonderful and promising sobriety is,” Rucker said. “Too often the approach with young people is focused on saying ‘no’ and presented as being deprived of something. The truth is that it’s quite the opposite. Sobriety is the greatest gift. It’s important that that be the approach.”

Today there are many communities designed specifically for young people in recovery. There are sober dances, 12-step meetings and even sober high school and college campuses all catering to this demographic. Rucker said that he increasingly sees young people embracing their sobriety and opening up about their life in recovery.

“There’s an ever-expanding network of teens who are sober and excited to be sober,” he said. “It’s not a burden to them. They’re living better lives and want to share that with people.”

Getting Excited About Recovery

When that framework has been switched, young people in recovery are able to focus on what they would like to do with their lives. That drive is great motivation for continued sobriety.

“Most youth have real goals and dreams for their life,” Rucker said. “It’s important to build on those and use them as motivating factors.”

At Paradigm Malibu young people in treatment write two stories:

  1. Their life until now
  2. What they would like their life to be in the future

Rucker and the rest of the staff at Paradigm Malibu encourage them to dream big.

“Everyone can have a plan A and a plan B,” he said. “If you want to be a world-famous musician that may or may not happen. But you could be a musician and make a living. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing thinking.”

Rucker said that it’s important for parents and other adults to support teens rather than trying to get them to focus on something more practical.

“Parents get scared and encourage kids to be pragmatic, but that means suppressing things that excite them,” he said. “We focus on things that excite them.”

That, he said, can lead to great results.

“I am amazed every day when I see youth tapping into their better selves and supporting each other in recovery.”

Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent treatment center in Malibu, California. Find out more at or follow them on Facebook.

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