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Psychotherapy for Emerging Adults

Addiction and Mental Health Treatment for Young Adults

Psychology acknowledges a unique stage of development between adolescence and adulthood, lasting from around ages 18-25. This age bracket comprises primarily college students and those in ongoing training or trade schools.
The psychological term to define this in-between stage young people go through is emerging adulthood.

A part of the human lifecycle categorized by teetering psychological changes, emerging adulthood has been proposed to represent a new demographic in developed countries.


A term raving all over social media – “adulting” – refers to young adults struggling to perform the duties of fully developed adults. It can make us laugh to see a post complaining about getting an oil change or cooking a meal instead of sleeping all day and buying weed. However, there is a good reason why the term “adulting” and what it represents resonates with so many.

What Is Emerging Adulthood?

Young adults have many choices and opportunities that may prolong a need for full responsibility and extend adolescence. Most Americans choose to go to college, and many continue with graduate school or get ongoing help from their parents.

Prolonging marriage or having children can minimize responsibility and extend adolescent-like behavior. With these new-generation opportunities come some unique pressures and psychological challenges for young adults.

Because of this transitional and complex stage of development, mental health issues often arise or reveal themselves during this time. More and more, we are seeing mental health in college students as an essential and valid issue.

Some of these mental health issues affecting college students are:

  • Depression
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Anxiety
  • ADHD
  • Mood disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Maltreatment/bullying/abuse

Understanding Emerging Adulthood

Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, PhD, is a college professor of psychology at Clark University. Dr. Arnett coined the term “emerging adulthood” with his book Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road From the Late Teens Through the Twenties.

In 1995, Arnett began studying those aged 18-29, interviewing them for five years in different cities nationwide. Examining, working, and researching further, Arnett discovered a new stage of development.

Arnett’s empirical research led to our understanding of emerging adulthood and the accompanying common mental health disorders in young adults.

What Distinguishes Emerging Adulthood From Other Life Stages? (5 Features)

Preparing for a career, choosing a profession and life path, and learning the life skills and habits to live independently are all a part of becoming a successful adult.

When does adolescence end and adulthood begin? When do they become a man or a woman?

The transition from dependency to responsibility involves five primary features.

1. Identity Exploration

Fifty years ago, the roles of society provided clear expectations, stability, and a well-defined structure for their adult lives. Today, approximately 70 percent of Americans pursue education beyond the twelfth grade.

U.S. citizens choose their partner for themselves without arranged marriages or parental permission. Choices in work and paradigms are what exercise our freedoms and voting rights.

Achieving one’s identity can involve risky and explorative behavior.

To find their unique identity, young people must break the shell of their childhood and test their parents’ values. Exploring their desires to travel, be hedonistic, focus on a career, and plot out a future of their own making, young adults engage in many facets of identity exploration.

2. Instability

Frequent moves and residential changes characterize the age of instability. Changes in educational courses and choice of colleges, such as moving from community college to university, are a part of emerging adulthood, as are changes in part-time jobs or career goals.

The natural explorations and behaviors of the 18-year-old through the 25-year-old also create instability.

Thrill-seeking behavior, new sexual experiences, and learning how to let go of childish things while taking on responsibility for one’s self can also cause some cognitive dissonance or instability during this stage.

3. Feeling In-Between

Most people in their late teens and early twenties say they feel in-between childhood and adulthood.

Accepting responsibility for oneself and working towards achieving financial independence are fundamental concepts a young person faces daily.

Making decisions for oneself and becoming self-sufficient comprise living up to the roles and responsibilities of adulthood. Most emerging adults have the feeling of not being teenagers or adolescents but, at the same time, not fully adults either.

4. Self-Focused

The age of self-focus is marked by discovering who we are and what our worldviews will be. We are in a period when Americans have married later in life than in all of our history–typically at about age 30.

Until we settle down with a partner and want to have kids, we take time to figure out who we are. We decide where we want to live and who we want to love. It takes self-focus and self-examination to choose what type of partner we want and what we want to do with our lives.

5. Endless Possibility

As a young person, possibilities seem infinite and endless. Young adults often feel invincible. They know they’ll live better lives than their parents, and optimism reigns. College-aged men and women feel strength in their friendships and the world’s possibilities. They can remake themselves and be who they want to be.

Common Mental Health Disorders in Young Adults

Many mental health disorders arise during emerging adulthood. From drug addiction to depression, those in late adolescence and early adulthood are the largest demographic to endure such struggles.

Think about the epidemic of mental health issues high school and college kids face today. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 75 percent of people who develop mental health disorders do so in late adolescence or early adulthood.

The brain is still growing and developing into the twenties, taking longer for males than females. With all that is going on in a young person’s cognitive development, coupled with the challenges of emerging adulthood, it is no wonder why mental illness presents at this stage. Several conditions are considered common mental health disorders in young adults.


Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD)

is recognized as a mental health disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5).

The primary symptoms of ADHD revolve around the following:

  • Impulsivity
  • Inattention
  • Poor executive functioning


Although the symptoms of ADD begin in childhood, it is not just a childhood disorder. ADD can continue through the teen years and into adulthood. This is especially poignant for college students and young adults faced with intensifying demands.

At a time when the emerging adult is developing an identity, the impulse control issues of ADD make life challenging. Even skills such as budgeting, doing laundry, and managing their time are put to the test, too challenging to overcome without help.


College life is glorified with images of party animals, free-flowing alcohol, and informal sex. However, the average college freshman doesn’t realize that binge drinking can quickly lead to alcoholism.

Alcohol use disorder is a severe medical condition and often arises during university life. The freedom of living out of a parent’s house or simply going to parties and being around peers who drink regularly can influence a person to start consuming alcohol too often or go on binges.

Sometimes triggered by the changing dynamics of love interests and the related trauma of rejection and breakups, students can be vulnerable to alcoholism. Other times, simply the facets of instability and identity exploration make emerging adults susceptible to alcohol abuse.

Sexual assault and violent crimes are closely tied to alcohol abuse on college campuses.


Infrequent anxiety is a normal response to the events of life. Waiting in line at the cafeteria, anticipating a test grade, being separated from those you love, and being anxious to fit in socially while toeing the line for your own beliefs are all valid reasons to experience anxiety.

However, persistent anxiety can be an overwhelming mental struggle and become a disorder.

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health problems on college campuses.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America and, additionally, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, college student mental health statistics regarding anxiety are as follows:

  • 40 million adults suffer from anxiety, and 75 percent of them experience their first episode by the age of 22.
  • 85% of college students report feeling overwhelmed by everything they have to do at some point during the year.
  • 41% listed anxiety as the top presenting concern among college students.
  • One in four have a diagnosable illness, but 40 percent of those do not seek help.


young woman dpression

Social media impacts young adults, and a desire to appear effortlessly perfect arises. Constant comparisons whittle self-esteem.

In a non-judgmental way, some parents report their young adults are stuck in a failure-to-launch rut. These parents feel their young adults struggle to find their way to complete adulthood and live at home, dependent, into their thirties. Young adults who feel they struggle with responsibility tend to deal with depression.

At a time when some feel unbridled potential and the excitement of forming lifelong friendships, others struggle to stay afloat, drowning in seas of disorganized papers and overflowing to-do lists. The dark side of the on-top-of-the-world feeling is the feeling of being crushed by the weight of the world.

College depression is a widespread problem. The feelings of loneliness, being stressed, isolation, and being overwhelmed can lead to serious problems if they persist.

Exploring and reshaping your identity can be confusing and disorienting.

Suicide rates continue to increase among college students and are the second leading cause of death on college campuses.

Many college students turn to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to alleviate their depression. Sadly, coping with mood disorders or depression by using substances only worsens the problem and potentially creates an addiction.

Drug Addiction

At a stage in development when young adults are particularly vulnerable, drugs are exchanged in dormitories and at parties. Stimulants as study aids, such as Adderall and cocaine, depressants as escapes, such as marijuana and heroin, and opioids are the challenges students face.

Some more reasons young adults are chemically inclined:

  • Freedom from parental rules
  • The fun-seeking desires of emerging adulthood
  • To cope with the stress of being pulled in so many directions
  • Social pressure

We are a nation of drugged-out dorms. Coping with the responsibilities of growing up, the still-developing young person often chooses to rely on drugs and alcohol.
Unaware of the real potential for addiction and its consequences, students make choices they later may regret.

Sometimes, all a college-aged person needs are the right people to help them deal with their changing life experiences.

Emerging Adulthood Psychiatry Requires a Unique Approach

young woman

By the time a young person finishes high school, they are probably as tall as they will get. They have likely grown physically to their potential, yet mental growth and cognition are still developing.

The mental health conditions that sideline the emerging adult are treatable with medication, therapy, or both. It is important to remember that conditions – like depression – are treatable, even though the dark days make it hard to believe that things can get better with help.

A clinical approach to this stage between adolescence and adulthood

demands a unique approach in psychiatric care. The technique for an emerging adult is singular in disposition.

The proper treatment for an emerging adult is neither teen or adolescent psychiatry nor adult psychiatry. Drs. Megwinoff, Glazer, and Bassett of Fifth Avenue Psychiatry understand the needs of this unique demographic, crafting and implementing treatment plans accordingly.

Not every psychiatrist has the training and experience to treat emerging adults. The doctors at Fifth Avenue Psychiatry do.

There is hope.

Mental health disorders are treatable, and we’re ready to help.

Schedule an appointment with us today to get started.


Emerging adulthood deals a lot with finding one’s identity. It’s a time when you’re searching for and building a career, juggling school and finances, and seeing a lot of change. When these parts of emerging adulthood become overwhelming, young adults may experience some of the common effects on their mental health, like anxiety or depression.

Likewise, college and the stresses of adulthood can be mishandled with substance use and alcohol as a coping mechanism. Once the problems take hold, seeking professional support through therapies, counseling, and sometimes medication is important.

When young adults take part in risky behavior, this is typically in the form of substance use, overconsumption of alcohol, and unsafe sexual activity.

Emerging adults are at higher risk for risky behavior because their brains, particularly the prefrontal cortex, are still developing. This, combined with newfound freedom through college or living independently for the first time, can lead to poor decision-making.