Wilderness Therapy for Young Adult Substance Use

Substance use is a common coping mechanism among young adults as a way to de-stress and connect with others. Substance use tends to peak during transitional periods in one’s life where individuals turn to substances to cope with the stress of responsibilities and anxiety around the unknown. But, developing substance use habits as a young adult can have a significant impact on one’s future goals and motivation to launch into adulthood. Wilderness therapy can help young adults break this cycle and develop healthier habits that can help them develop fulfilling and successful lives. 

The guide is meant to be comprehensive, but as such, not every section will be applicable to everyone. Instead, we invite you to click on the links in the table of contents to jump to the sections that most interest you.

What are the signs of substance use in young adults?

Substance use is often a difficult subject to broach with your child, who may be unwilling to disclose history of substance use or may underestimate the extent of their experimentation. It is important to keep an eye out for red flags that they might be experiencing consequences due to experimenting with substances. This can be difficult if they have moved out of the house or are attending college in another state. 

Some signs to look out for may include:

  • Motivational changes
    • Loss of interest in extracurricular activities 
    • Loss of interest in college major and switching career goals frequently
    • Sudden decline in academic performance
  • Relational changes 
    • Losing touch with hometown friend group
    • Frequent changes in friend groups
    • Asking for money regularly
    • Limiting contact with concerned friends and family
  • Physical changes:
    • Abnormal sleep schedule
    • Significant weight loss or gain
    • Frequent physical complaints

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What are the causes of substance use in young adults?

It is not uncommon for young adults to experiment with substances, like alcohol and marijuana, particularly during their college years. During this period of their lives, binge drinking may even be considered socially acceptable. As people tend to form friendships with those who have similar habits as themselves, many people who drink often may justify it as a social activity, especially if their friends drink the same amount or more. However, while some people can party through college and maintain healthy friendships and a consistent GPA, others may become more socially withdrawn and unmotivated. 

Some risk factors for consequences of experimenting with substances may include:

  • A history of depression or anxiety
  • Family history of substance use issues
  • Using substances to cope with or change the way they feel
  • Impulsive decision-making
  • Lack of future orientation or career goals

How does adventure therapy help young adults with addictive behaviors?

Many young adults are drawn to addictive behaviors because of the instant gratification and sense of achievement they may feel when experimenting with substances or breaking rules. Young adults with existing mental health issues may be more likely to take risks in order to experience the same level of endorphins or adrenaline that other people may feel doing lower-risk activities. Adventure therapy encourages these peak experiences by introducing young adults to healthier forms of risk-taking that improve their mood and build confidence. 

By introducing young adults to a variety of adventure activities that may serve as peak experiences, wilderness therapy programs help students address the underlying reasons that they have struggled with substance use: impulsivity, anxiety, lack of energy, low self-esteem, lack of sense of accomplishment, and disconnection from others. Many of our students discover hidden talents and new passions through adventure activities and decide to replace their old habits with these new, healthier hobbies once they leave the program.

What makes blueFire PulsaR a unique treatment option?

At blueFire PulsaR, we recognize that experimenting with substances is often a symptom of other mental health struggles and traumatic experiences. This is why we take a holistic approach to substance use treatment that addresses underlying issues and overall wellbeing rather than focusing on substance use itself. 

Our multidisciplinary treatment approach includes:

  • Adventure Therapy as the centerpiece of a program which explores personal growth through a variety of new experiences: rock climbing, backpacking, mountain biking, white water rafting, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, horsemanship, caving, historical outings
  • Service work in the community which helps clients expand their worldview and think of the needs of others.
  • Daily yoga, meditation and mindfulness
  • Weekly equine therapy to develop healthy relationships and improved communication
  • More therapy as therapists are “in the field” with clients four days per week
  • Individual therapy two times per week. Group therapy four times per week.
  • A family-centered approach  involving parents in a comprehensive program to reconnect the entire family through a family systems process when appropriate

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