Failure to Launch Syndrome and Addiction

Research has shown that the highest percentage of people seeking addiction treatment are young adults aged 18-25. When examining this population as a whole, a prevailing trend begins to emerge. Young adults have been increasingly suffering from what is known as “failure to launch syndrome.”

“Failure to launch” is a phrase that is commonly used to describe the hardships and challenges encountered by modern young adults during the transitional period between adolescence and adulthood. Moreover, this is a stage of development in which the young adult should be transitioning to greater independence, life direction, self-sufficiency, and responsibility.

Signs of Failure to Launch Syndrome

Common signs of failure to launch syndrome include the following:

  • Dropping out of school or experiencing a significant decline in academic performance
  • Returning to live at home after attempts to live independently were unsuccessful
  • Being consistently unemployed, underemployed, or only minimally employed
  • Contributing little financially or emotionally to family or others
  • Being withdrawn or absent, and isolating oneself
  • Spending a considerable amount of time partying
  • Abusing substances, particularly marijuana, opioids, or alcohol
  • Lacking motivation, direction, or purpose
  • Lacking emotional range or expression
  • Struggles to express wants, needs or fears
  • Having little or no desire for greater independence or responsibilities
  • Having feelings of nihilism or apathy
  • Exhibiting social anxiety
  • Being inactive or viewed as lazy by others

Who Fails to Launch?

Failure to launch syndrome may be experienced by those individuals who never went to college or were not successful in their academic endeavors. They are either unemployed, or do not make enough money to live on their own, and therefore, must partially or fully depend on the support of their parents.

This syndrome is all based on the idea that during the period of growth when a person is learning necessary life skills, emotional regulation, and decision-making, these individuals should, essentially, “launch” into adulthood. Unfortunately, however, many young adults face barriers and difficulties during this stage that somehow impede their launch into adulthood.

Many parents of adult children who are addicted to drugs or alcohol find similar patterns in their children’s behaviors and attitudes that could accurately be described as a failure to launch. Often, the initial stages of this lack of development onset early in childhood and worsen during adolescence.

Children that grow into young adults that have launched successfully have clearly developed the necessary skills, fortitude, and abilities needed to succeed. They value independence and are motivated to move forward in life and into adulthood. Adult children that have failed to launch have not, for whatever reason, completed the process of maturation and growth.

Failure to Launch Syndrome and Addiction | Harmony Recovery Center

Signs of Enabling Failure to Launch Syndrome

When an adult child is struggling in their life endeavors, it’s normal to want to intervene and help him or her. Sometimes, however, parents go a bit too far. When a parent is emotionally invested in a situation, especially if their child is suffering from addiction, the lines between helping versus enabling them often become blurred.

There are some common signs of enabling:

  • The parents take care of the adult child’s responsibilities—paying their bills, cooking all their meals, doing their laundry, etc.
  • The parent consistently lends money to the adult child because they are unemployed or minimally employed.
  • The child doesn’t show respect for the parent unless they want something and exhibit feelings of entitlement.
  • The parent allows them to live at home without contributing to the household financially or by doing chores.

In addition to encouraging an adult child to seek treatment for their addiction, there are other healthy ways to help him or her without enabling, such as the following:

  • Do not wait on them hand and foot regarding cooking, cleaning, etc.
  • Do not try to solve their problems—try to let them figure it out on their own.
  • Don’t allow them to live with you if they are not contributing to the household in some significant way—require them to be employed or continue their education.
  • Do not pay their bills or expenses—they should able to pay for their own gas, food, clothing, etc.
  • Remember that you have a right to say no in any given situation—be strong if he or she begs you to do things for them that they should be doing for themselves.

Addressing Addiction and Failure to Launch Syndrome

As noted, addiction treatment centers are saturated with the young adult “failure to launch” population. Just as those who experience failure to launch syndrome exhibit certain characteristics, those suffering from addiction also have similar traits. These two populations often mirror and drive one another in a manner that contributes to the sustainment of both behaviors.

Also, enabling families often provide a comfortable environment for young adults who suffer from both addiction and failure to launch syndrome. In essence, they allow these two sets of behaviors to thrive unfettered. In turn, this has additional adverse effects on those young people when it comes to fostering growth, self-confidence, and quality of life.

For this reason, when treating addiction in the young adult population, it is critical to offer integrated treatment that addresses failure to launch syndrome as well as the problems associated with it. These may include feelings of entitlement, enmeshed or dysfunctional family dynamics, and enabling loved ones. Also, life skills training and educational and vocational goal setting are vital.

A reputable, comprehensive addiction treatment program that deals with young adults must be able to address both the addictive behaviors and “failure to launch” challenges. This means offering services that concentrate on core issues and underlying causes and conditions. It also means fostering internal motivation and executive functioning.

Failure to Launch Syndrome and Addiction | Harmony Recovery Center

These programs help patients in early recovery enter collegiate life or the workforce while learning and exercising the necessary skills to reach their objectives. They teach them how to better cope with stressors and challenges in a safe and supportive clinical environment.

If a treatment program only focuses on substance use, the same issues that prompted and exacerbated an individual’s addiction will still be present. Failure to address these problems will ultimately undermine the person’s recovery.

By addressing both the addiction and the behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs of the “failure to launch” population during treatment, clients have the opportunity to learn and practice essential life skills and engage in emotional regulation. This practice helps them to foster personal and professional relationships and the motivation to move forward from a state of dependence to a state of independence.

Unless a person with an addiction can move through the important steps of emotional and life development related to becoming an independent adult, there is little hope that he or she will be able to sustain lasting recovery. Moreover, by addressing the underlying causes of both and failure to launch syndrome, a young adult can be given the necessary tools required for a fulfilling life, and learn the practical application of those tools to launch themselves into independent adulthood.

Getting Help for Addiction

If you or someone you know needs help related to drug or alcohol abuse or addiction, please contact us today! Harmony Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive and effective addiction treatment programs available that address all manners of substance abuse, mental health, and behavioral issues.

We are committed to ensuring that our clients are provided with all the tools they need to experience a full recovery and sustain long-term sobriety and wellness!

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