We all have our own little lists of relapse triggers; things to actively avoid at all costs. For some of us, triggers might include sitting alone in a bar, working late shifts as a bartender, or helping a diabetic inject their insulin. Whatever it is, we know that the healthiest thing to do is occupy our time with something else entirely. Or avoid that particular person, or get enough sleep. Whatever it is. When we commit to sobriety, we commit to doing whatever we need to stay to remain emotionally stable and as serene as possible. This is especially true in early recovery, of course. The more secure we get in our sobriety, the fewer relapse triggers we will be faced with. Places we actively avoided (like bars, concerts, music festivals, and strip clubs) will once again feel like safe territory. Maybe we could cut out strip clubs entirely, though. Depending on what our sponsor suggests. In any case, the longer we stay sober, the more comfortable in our own skin we will begin to feel. The more places we can safely go; the more things we can safely do.
When I first got sober, I had a long list of potential relapse triggers. No bars, no nightclubs, no parties with old friends (drinking friends). But the biggest relapse trigger of all, and the one that people rarely talk about, was FOMA.
What is FOMA, you ask? Well, for the young and newly sober individual, FOMA is just about the worst thing ever.
Fear of Missing Out
FOMA stands for Fear of Missing Out, and it is what leads many young, recovering addicts and alcoholics straight back to the drink or the drug. Adolescence is tough. All we really want to do is fit in. We try in every way we can to gain acceptance from our peers; we dye our hair, wear trendy clothes… we might even go through a ‘scene phase’. Most of us begin drinking and smoking pot because we just want to be accepted – we want to be cool and fit in. Many of us will even sacrifice our own moral standards in order to gain approval. Maybe dad was a pretty bad alcoholic, and we swore to ourselves (and or mothers) that we would never touch a drop of liquor. And then one night, our friends convince us to steal some of the booze from his barely-stocked cabinet, saying, “Come on, come on… you’re nothing like your father. It’ll be fine.” We sacrifice our own principles for the sake of fitting in, because at that age, there is nothing more important than fitting in. Also, peer pressure is very real. So we give into peer pressure and think to ourselves, “Ah, whatever, I’m young. This is what young kids are supposed to do.”
For some of us, hard teenage partying continues into young adulthood. And maybe for some of us, what seemed like a phase eventually transforms into a full-fledged dependency. What used to make us feel accepted now makes us feel ostracized and alone. We lose control over our use entirely, and soon we are deeply entrenched in a powerful and all-consuming addiction.
Eventually, things get so bad that we are forced to face the unmanageability of our lives. We need help; we either ask for it, or it is initially thrust upon us. We might fight it at first, unwilling to admit or accept that things have to change – and fast. And drastically. But eventually, we accept the help, and acknowledge the fact that maybe – just maybe – our lives would run a little more smoothly if we cut out chemical substance. So we enter treatment, and we learn even more about addiction recovery and why it is so important. We want to go back to school; we want to be healthy and happy and achieve all of our personal goals and make our parents proud. We really do. That all sounds great.
But, we also really want to go to EDC. Like… really badly. All of our friends will be there, and last year was so much fun. I mean, we don’t have to get drunk and do ecstasy to have a good time. We can just tell our friends not to give us any no matter how much we beg. Recovery sounds wonderful, sure. But EDC is something we just aren’t really willing to miss out on.
Learning to Fit In
The cool thing about recovery nowadays is that the young recovery community is pretty darn massive. Depending on where an individual chooses to recover, he or she will have no shortage of similarly aged peers to befriend and support. Big recovery communities can be found in many major cities, such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Nashville, Dallas, and West Palm Beach. Unfortunately, this also means that rates of teen and young adult substance abuse are higher than ever before. In 2014, the NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health) reported that roughly 5 percent of the American adolescent population struggled with a severe substance abuse disorder. This equates to 1 out of every 12 teens aged 7-12; or 1.3 million nationwide. It was also found that adolescents who tried alcohol or marijuana before the age of 15 were nearly four times as likely to develop a substance abuse disorder by the age of 18.
Rates of drug abuse are even higher amongst young adults. A whopping 16.3 percent of all Americans aged 18-24 battled a severe substance abuse disorder in 2014. According to AARP, heroin addiction amongst young adults has more than doubled over the course of the past 10 years. These numbers are alarming, and they continue to escalate on a daily basis. As illicit drugs are getting more dangerous and easier to acquire, more and more adolescents and young adults are entering treatment with life-threatening problems. Fortunately, we can decide at any point in time not to be a part of this statistic. We can opt, instead, to be amongst the millions of American teenagers and young adults that are in recovery for addiction, having real fun and living up to their potential.
The true fun begins when we learn to enjoy recovery, and fill our lives with sober friends, healthy activities, and an abundance of amazing opportunities. Once we get a little more stable in our sobriety (work through the steps, take a few sponsees through the steps, and accumulate a couple of solid years), we can freely go anywhere and do anything. By that time, however, we’ll probably have better things to do than sweat our butts off in a crowd of drugged-out techno fans.