Does it seem as though your addicted adult child or older teen child behaves like they are much younger than they are? Do they lack emotional control? Are they more irresponsible than you would expect them to be for a child their age? Do they depend on you and others to do things for them that they could and should be doing for themselves?
They have likely experienced something known as delayed emotional growth. The brain is still developing until age twenty-five plus or minus a couple of years. When teens and young adults use drugs and alcohol, the part of their brain that controls their emotions and executive decisions is damaged. Do not despair. It can heal.
Think of the brain as several different computer systems, connected with ethernet cables. One of those computer systems is the frontal lobe where adult-type decisions are made and emotions are regulated.. The ethernet cable represents the neurons that connect different parts of our brain. When we're young, the insulation that covers those ethernet cables is thin, allowing some information to be lost in the transfer from the frontal lobe to other parts of the brain.
That insulation is known as the myeiln sheath. As we grow older, the myelin sheath becomes thicker, thus facilitating a better transfer of information. When adolescents experiment with drugs and alcohol, the myelin sheath is damaged and its growth is stunted. This is why your 25- year-old for example behaves more like a 15 year old. Those who have misused substances tend to get stuck emotionally and developmentally at the age close they were when they began using.
All of this can be naturally repaired once use is stopped. The length of time for the brain to repair itself and the extent to which it can repair itself depends on a lot of variables, including the types of substances used and the frequency with which they were used.
How Does it Help to Understand Delayed Emotional Growth?
It helps for the parents of drug-addicted children to understand delayed emotional growth. When your adult child is behaving irrationally, you can be a little more patient when you know that it's not necessarily intentional. In a lot of ways their mind really is immature. When I say that this knowledge helps you to be more patient with your child, that doesn't mean that you should tolerate certain behaviors. What it does mean is that you will need to learn how to set and maintain healthy boundaries and improve your communication skills. Healthy boundaries and communication are great topics for another blog post.