‘A functioning addict is still a kid:’ qualitative study of emerging adults in residential treatment

Kelly Lynn Clary, Douglas Cary Smith, Jacob Matthew Goffnett, Chung Yi Chiu, Jordan P. Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Emerging adults (EAs; 18 to 29 year olds) experience high rates of substance use and disordered use. Few studies examine whether developmental theories account for elevated use among EAs across the continuum of substance use. This study surveyed emerging adults in residential treatment, focusing on their impressions of the Emerging Adulthood Theory (EAT) and whether it applied to their substance use. EAs (n = 21) receiving residential treatment discussed their developmental trajectories and substance use related to the EAT dimensions: identity exploration, instability, self-focus, feeling in between adolescence and adulthood, and optimism about the future. Researchers completed semi-structured interviews, focus groups, and engaged in rigorous qualitative coding. Most participants identified with the EAT dimensions. Salient themes included stunted identity development from use, self-medication, and how responsibilities and instability influenced development. Further research should explore whether integrating discussions of EAT into substance use treatment would enhance outcomes, and which treatments promote recovery identities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)179-193
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Alcohol use/abuse
  • emerging adults
  • health behavior
  • qualitative methods
  • transitions to adulthood

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Rehabilitation


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