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An army of young advocates: Young People in Recovery share what worked for them in treatment.

Young People in Recovery (YPR) is a national movement of young people in long-term recovery, with a vision that states "we envision a world where we don't have to bury any more of our friends due to drugs and alcohol." The movement is united at all levels to empower young people to find and sustain recovery. Members use their voices and lived experiences to educate, advocate and collaborate. YPR's goals include establishing chapters, having national ambassadors in every state, securing funding for an executive director, formalizing partnerships with other organizations, and developing trainings to provide to young people across the country.


YPR is currently a group of 21 united leaders from all over the U.S. who are paving the way and nurturing the movement. YPR's roots date to the 2010 Joint Meeting on Adolescent Treatment Effectiveness (JMATE), where 40 young people were brought together for the Young People's National Dialogue on Recovery sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). They were given the opportunity to talk about the issues that young people are challenged with when trying to gain access to treatment for substance abuse and to And their own paths to recovery.

A follow-up to this dialogue occurred in July 2011, hosted by the Association of Recovery Schools and SAMHSA. It was at this meeting that the idea of YPR was conceived. Since then, some of the participants from the 2011 meeting continued to stay in touch with one another and have met at various events, conferences and workshops. These selfless leaders have dedicated a large portion of their time and energy to the betterment of the recovery community. From conference calls that go on until midnight, to long chains of e-mail exchanges and Facebook messages, to balancing homework and careers with YPR projects, this group has begun to build a strong foundation. YPR believes this collaboration will prove to be a game-changer for young people in recovery everywhere.

YPR feels strongly about its ability to affect the larger substance abuse treatment system through its members' lived experiences. After going through an array of different types of treatment and emerging on the other side as successful, productive young people maintaining long-term recovery, YPR's members are a living, breathing data set. YPR members are frequently asked, "How did you do it? What worked for you? How can we transfer your success to other young people?"

Members' experiences

Four members of YPR were asked to share their experiences in treatment centers and their thoughts on what worked and did not work. Some received treatment in adolescent facilities and others spent time in adult facilities. Some were in six-month residential treatment programs, while others attended 28-day programs. However, one thing chat stands out as a universal truth for these individuals is that each went through treatment multiple times.

Each individual liked the fact that treatment offered an outlet to meet with other individuals who were struggling with substance use disorders and seeking recovery. One downside to this was that most YPR members were not among other clients in their age group. YPR member Alison Carlin says that she would have benefited from being around others in her age range and that "most other clients were as old as my parents."


Peer-to-peer support services would allow young people in treatment centers to relate to those who have been in a similar situation, as well as to meet peers who have made recovery a reality. YPR member Justin Luke Riley says that "not a single treatment program I went to had anything to offer to young people specifically."

A major pillar of recovery that is not utilized in treatment is leadership and service work. After stays in two residential treatment centers and three mental health facilities, Riley was "never given an opportunity to lead or give back to the programs and people I was a part of. Riley goes on to say that what really made a lasting impact on his recovery was altruism and being able to grow as a leader.

A positive from Sarah Nerad's treatment experience was that she continued to face consequences during treatment. She says that her treatment center "didn't continue to enable me or let me run on self-will. I had to get with the program just like everyone else. They had no problem asking someone who was toxic to the group to leave the program. That was a great example to me of how serious this really is and that there are real-world consequences ill continue to live my life how I was."

Teaching young people about the realistic consequences, and not sugarcoating the reality of the life of someone who is using, can make the difference in how young people perceive the message of substance abuse treatment.

Many young people find that too much emphasis is often placed on standard aftercare vs. a true "recovery plan." Devin Fox noticed this and felt that aftercare was pushed on him regardless of whether that was the best next step for him. Young people need to be set up for success and have a long-term plan for how they are going to take back their life.

Focus needs to be put on areas such as life skills, career planning and professional development. The ability to find a job, bring in a livable income, or perform well in school greatly increases one's personal investment in and enthusiasm for recovery. Helping young people to find a purpose in life that is meaningful and fulfilling is vital to their success. It is never too late to ask, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

Creating opportunities

The leaders of YPR have had a range of opportunities that have helped them to sustain their recovery. Many members talk about going back to college, starting a graduate degree, pursuing their passion in life, or finding a job where they feel fulfilled and useful. These positive opportunities help fill their time with constructive activities, and introduce them to like-minded people who want to achieve similar things in life.

It is the availability of these opportunities that is the driving force behind YPR. These leaders want to advocate so that more young people have the same opportunities they did, and so that any young person can go to treatment and receive culturally competent and developmentally appropriate services. That will translate to the ability to choose whatever they want to be when they grow up and to have access to information, resources and a network of individuals that can help them achieve that. This will enable them to live a life that is healthy, happy and free.

This is all going to be possible by virtue of young people speaking up and showing the world chat recovery is possible, at any age.

Sarah Nerad is a member of Young People in Recovery (YPR) and has served as an intern for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Her e-mail address is Danielle Tarino is a public health adviser at SAMHSA's Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT), and was a member of the steering committee that created YPR.
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Title Annotation:Feature
Author:Nerad, Sarah; Tarino, Danielle
Publication:Addiction Professional
Date:Sep 1, 2012
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