In the world of addiction recovery there is a concept that an addict’s maturity is stunted at the age when he or she begins to use. For example, if a person begins smoking marijuana regularly at age 13, when he begins recovery at age 40, he will have the emotional maturity of a 13 year old. The theory is the same with those who abuse alcohol, cocaine, heroin or hallucinogens.
As a matter of fact, many addicts use a combination of the above listed drugs. Likewise, some persons have sexual, pornography, tobacco or gambling addictions. Those who have over-eating problems can experience this too. The same theory seems to hold true. The addicts’ emotional growth is stunted when they begin to abuse a mind altering “experience”.
Though this phenomenon is often mentioned, it is rarely described in a way that makes sense. That is because it is exaggerated and therefore hard to accept. It can also be insulting for an addict to be told he is an emotional 13 year-old. What I have seen in decades of counseling addicts of various substances and behaviors has helped me to understand this baffling condition.
First of all, it is an exaggeration to make a point. In most cases, a 40 year old recovering addict is more mature than a 13 year old.
Secondly, we need to look at this in regard to the stages of human development. Through childhood, adolescence and young adulthood we have a multitude of tasks to perform and lessons to be learned on our path to maturity. Who am I? What are my values? Do I really believe in God? How do I relate to members of the opposite sex? How do I fit in with members of the same sex? How do I handle anger? Rejection? Boredom? Loneliness? Self Esteem? Grief? Loss? Abuse? What should I do for a career? Etc. Etc. Etc. What an ordeal!
Growing up is extremely stressful. When a person is supposed to be maturing, but is getting high on a regular basis, he does not learn how to resolve these issues in a healthy, successful way. He is drugging them!
Now, at age 40, the recovering addict has resolved some of those issues. Others are resolved partially, and still in many ways he is very far behind. And yes, admittedly so, in some ways he or she is like the proverbial 13 year old.
It is my contention, most recovery work is a matter of maturing mentally, emotionally and spiritually. The addict must go back and learn the things he missed due to acting out in the addiction. Once an addict is sober, he can begin to discover the “character defects” which he needs to overcome and receive healing from. This is a process that takes time, effort and the grace of God.