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Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse

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Understanding the Emerging Adult in your Family

Psychologist Jeffrey Jensen Arnett has proposed the theory of "emerging adulthood," describing the unique developmental characteristics of young people between the ages of 18 and 25. College-aged individuals often have one foot in adolescence and the other in adulthood, which makes for some complications for them and their loved ones.

  • Changes in the transition into adulthood have changed dramatically over the past half-century:
  • Marriage and parenthood are being postponed until later ages.
  • More people have extended their education and training into their 20s.
  • There has been a profound change in how young people view the meaning and value of becoming an adult; the exceptional freedom experienced during their twenties is often a higher priority than that of marriage and family.
  • Women's roles have changed.  The social pressures to find a spouse at a young age no longer exist; an occupational focus is more acceptable.

The ages of 18-25 have become a time of identity exploration-getting to know oneself, determining values, exploring relationships, and deciding what to do. Alcohol and other drug use may become a part of this identity exploration.  For some students, this may mean trying out new substances, while others may turn to substance use as a way to relieve identity confusion.

Parents and families can play a vital role in helping emerging adults make decisions about alcohol and other drugs. College students who feel there is little social control in their lives are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors.  It is crucial that parents discuss expectations with their sons and daughters and talk about the potential consequences of choices. This involves ongoing the dialogue about life, responsibility, and healthy-decision making.