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Tess Brigham


It ain’t easy being clean. Anyone who has struggled with drug and alcohol addiction knows that getting clean and sober is not an easy process.

But what if you are a twenty-something and you are trying to get clean and sober? You have even more excuses for continuing to use. Why? Well, in this culture, it’s the ‘norm” for the typical twenty-something to be out partying all the time.  Aren’t the twenty-something years for drinking, using and getting crazy?

Yes and no. If you are a regular reader of my blog (I’m sure you all are) you will know that I believe that the years between 20-30 are important. I encourage all of my twenty-something clients to never use “being young” as an excuse for not moving towards your relationship, career and health goals.

So what do you do if you are twenty-something and you realize that maybe your drinking and drug use is not the “norm?”

If you are questioning your use, you can take a test today to determine if you meet the diagnostic criteria for Alcohol Abuse or Dependence:

1) This is a test from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD):

2) Here is a test from Narcotics Anonymous (NA):

After working with hundreds of individuals struggling with addiction, I have heard every excuse in the book about why being clean and sober is just not possible for them.

I will say that the excuses and rationales I hear from my twenty-something clients are pretty good and not without a shred of truth. While these excuses can be convincing sometimes, I want to shed some light for all the twenty-something’s out there that believe excessive drug and alcohol use is ‘OK’ at this time in your life.

Let’s start with the excuses. Here are the top 4 excuses I hear the most:

“All my friends are out getting wasted all the time, it’s just what we do.”

“I’m so young and I can’t imagine never having a drink or getting high again.”

“If I stop drinking and using, I’ll have no one to hang out with.”

“This is the time in my life to be partying hard and I really haven’t suffered any major consequences, I’ll get it together when I’m 30.”

Those are some pretty good rationales and, again, I don’t completely disagree with them. Yes, never drinking or using drugs again when you are in your 20s is a mighty long time. Yes, I’m sure most of your friends are out partying on the weekends.

I feel you and I empathize with you but now we gotta get real.

I know, I know you don’t want to hear a lecture so I am going to be short and to the point.

The truth, plain and simple, is if your addiction is negatively affecting your relationships, your work and/or your health, you need to find a way to stop. Addiction is a progressive disease and your usage will only increase. One of my favorite excuses is that many addicts don’t want to stop using until they haven’t hit their “bottom” yet.

I always tell my young clients that you don’t want to get anywhere near your “bottom.”  Do you want every relationship in your life either gone or destroyed? Do you want to do things for drugs/alcohol that cause you shame? It is only a matter of time before you end of doing something that cannot be undone. Bottom means everything in your life worth having is gone and you are out of options.

If you make the choice to get sober young, you can still have a life. You can repair your current relationships, you can get your career back on track and you can go back to school and finish your education. You can still have all the things in life that you dreamt about as a kid.

Unfortunately for those who are much older and finally getting sober, the damage is usually much bigger and the time to recover and repair is shorter.

Excessive drug and alcohol abuse takes a toll on your body and mind. While you may be done growing physically: your brain is not fully formed until you are 25. Your frontal lobes, cerebellum (which affects coordination, muscle control and balance), and hippocampus (this affects memory) develop the slowest and are especially sensitive to drugs and alcohol. You need to recognize that your drug and alcohol use is hurting you in ways you cannot see.

You may feel like you need alcohol and drugs to feel better about yourself and “fit in.” After years of studies, it has been found that self-esteem is not developed with affirmations but mastery.

What do I mean by that? You are not going to feel better about yourself because people like you and tell you you’re the life of the party. You gain self-esteem and happiness from mastering challenges, working successfully and overcoming adversity. You will not be able to master anything if all of your time and energy you are abusing drugs and alcohol.

Finally, drug and alcohol addiction keeps you stuck and impedes with your social and emotional development. If you have been using drugs and alcohol to manage every difficult and uncomfortable situation in your life since the age of 16 (or whenever you started using), you are emotionally a 16 year old. Addicts do not develop the tools they need to manage life’s ups and downs because each time they faced a tough crossroads, they use.

If you take steps to get clean and sober now you will be able to easily catch up to your cohorts in terms of maturity and coping skills.

If you are struggling with addiction, get honest with yourself. Take the online tests and stop making excuses for your behavior. The sooner you get clean, the sooner your real life can start.