Learn / Addiction and Arrested Development: How Substance Use Impacts Personal Growth

Addiction and Arrested Development: How Substance Use Impacts Personal Growth

Kayla Gill
 October 19th, 2023|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Key Points

  • Arrested development is when something prevents us from maturing at the expected rate.
  • It has a strong link with substance abuse, which often starts in adolescence.
  • Integrated treatment can help rewire the brain from addiction and break this cycle.

Addiction and arrested development often feed into each other. Someone with arrested development might start using substances as a coping mechanism. In turn, substance abuse can hinder emotional, social, and cognitive development. While this often feels discouraging, it’s a cycle you can break out of. Rehab for addiction and mental health treatment may be a good place to start.

Defining Arrested Development

Arrested development happens when something prevents your ability to mature1 emotionally, socially, or cognitively at the expected rate. It’s often the result of early trauma or neglect. That’s why an adult experiencing arrested development might overreact to a situation, using coping mechanisms they learned as a child. 

Substance abuse can also impede how we’d normally mature. Personal development is a natural progression. As life changes, we learn about ourselves and the world around us. And as a result, we adapt. Addiction disrupts this process. It hinders key growth areas, including decision-making abilities, impulse control, and maturity. It can also leave you feeling very isolated.

The Relationship Between Addiction and Arrested Development

Substance use often starts during adolescence2—a crucial period for emotional, cognitive, and social growth. It’s common for adolescents with addiction to struggle to transition into adulthood.3 

One of the most important changes during adolescence is brain development. The prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain responsible for rational thinking, impulse control, decision-making, and emotional regulation—develops greatly from adolescence until age 25. Our brain is especially vulnerable to the effects of substances during these years. Marijuana use impairs the development of the hippocampus,4 which plays a crucial role in memory and learning. Meanwhile, heavy alcohol consumption during adolescence disrupts the development of the prefrontal cortex.5 These disruptions can lead to long-lasting cognitive defects. 

Continued substance use prolongs arrested development, especially for teens. Many teens experiencing addiction struggle to reach important life milestones. They might prioritize substances over other important life areas like relationships and education, for example. 

How Addiction and Arrested Development Impact Emotional Well-Being

Arrested development can affect your emotional well-being. It’s normal to struggle with managing your emotions from time to time. However, arrested development impairs your ability to regulate emotions.6 This can heighten stress and anxiety—known risk factors for substance abuse.7 

Often, people stuck in these heightened emotional states use substances to cope. One study found that 41% of U.S. adults use alcohol to manage their mental health,8 even though 80% viewed it as unhealthy behavior. This dynamic between addiction and arrested development can persist indefinitely without treatment and healthy coping tools.

The Social Implications of Arrested Development

Someone with arrested development might struggle to maintain a healthy social life. There’s a strong link between arrested development, emotional detachment,9 and impaired social skills. Without emotional connection, it’s hard to form close bonds. This can put a strain on your relationships. It can also make social interactions feel challenging or daunting. As a result, you might feel even more socially isolated.

Aside from being emotionally distressing, social isolation can lead to substance abuse10 and other high-risk behaviors. This is one way addiction and arrested development feed into each other. 

How Addiction Affects Cognitive Functioning and Academic Performance

Substance use negatively impacts academic achievement.11 The teen brain is highly sensitive to experiences. Abusing substances during these years disrupts important brain maturation processes. This can cause symptoms like poor concentration, memory loss, and problem-solving issues. One study found that alcohol-dependent teens recalled 10% less information12 than their peers, even after 3 weeks of abstinence. 

On top of cognitive disruptions, addiction changes priorities. Teens who use drugs are less likely to enroll in college.13 This limits long-term educational and career prospects. Treatment can help you shift your focus back to your personal growth and life goals. 

Addressing Dual Diagnosis

Arrested development often co-occurs with other mental health disorders: 

Because addiction and arrested development are so intertwined, finding treatment that addresses both is key. An integrated approach combines rehabilitation for addiction and mental health support, focusing on the underlying causes of each concern. Specialized treatment for co-occurring disorders is more effective14 than addressing each issue separately. 

Breaking the Cycle of Addiction and Arrested Development

It’s possible to break the cycle of addiction and arrested development, and many people do. What you’re going through now doesn’t define your future. Personal growth can happen at any age. 

Neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to change, means we can rewire the brain from addiction. Comprehensive treatment doesn’t just address addiction; it also fosters personal development. Many rehabs offer a combination of treatments to address different aspects of healing.

Inpatient Rehab

If you’re struggling with substance abuse, you might consider an inpatient rehab. In this type of program, you’ll live onsite in a protected environment with daily care. You’ll follow a daily schedule that includes therapy and other recovery activities. And if you’re looking to treat more than one concern, several rehabs treat co-occurring disorders

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient programs offer similar care to inpatient rehab. A key difference is that you live at home. Treatment is tailored to your needs, but keep in mind that it can be nearly as intensive as inpatient rehab. 


Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, offers a safe space to work through difficult emotions and learn new coping methods. There are many different forms of therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is among the most common and widely recognized. It teaches you to challenge and change unhelpful thoughts and behaviors. One study found the success rate of CBT is 60%15 among patients with cocaine dependence. 


Counseling is considered a short-term, goal-oriented treatment.16 Meanwhile, psychotherapy addresses a wider range of issues. In counseling, you’ll work with a trained mental health professional toward specific goals. These can include new coping skills, academic growth, and more. 

Support Groups

Arrested development can feel isolating. It’s comforting to find a community of others going through similar experiences. Support groups offer just that. In these social networks, people in recovery help each other stay accountable, share coping strategies, and encourage each other’s growth.

Developing Coping Skills and Resilience

Recovery is all about learning healthy coping skills and emotional resilience. Challenges are a natural part of life, but we are in control of how we respond to them. Therapy plays a key role in this process. It offers a structured environment to explore underlying triggers, manage stress, and confront challenges in a healthy way. Therapy can give you insight into your own patterns and behaviors. As part of your recovery journey, you’ll learn to change what no longer serves you.

Self-care practices can promote personal responsibility and growth. They remind us that it feels good to take care of ourselves. There are plenty of self-care tools that nourish the mind, body, and soul: 

  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Adequate sleep
  • Journaling
  • Maintaining a healthy diet

These practices show us there is joy in healing. Consistently practicing healthy habits builds your resilience, empowering you to better handle future challenges. 

Long-Term Recovery Can Ignite Personal Growth 

Recovery itself is growth. Pursuing life goals and seeing progress is one of the joys of healing.

If you’re looking for recovery from addiction and arrested development, rehab can be a great place to find it. Reputable centers are committed to their clients’ long-term recovery. In addition to primary treatment, they often provide aftercare and alumni programs, and can put you in touch with resources for ongoing support. 

Search addiction treatment centers to learn more about the recovery process and connect directly with admissions teams.

Frequently Asked Questions About Addiction and Arrested Development

Can addiction disrupt personal development?

Yes, addiction hinders personal development by interrupting emotional, social, and cognitive growth. Substance use often starts during adolescence, a crucial period for personal development. Substance abuse can impede decision-making, impulse control, and maturity, creating a cycle that stunts personal development.

How can someone cope with both addiction and arrested development?

Coping with both addiction and arrested development involves integrated treatment. Getting to the root cause of both issues can be more effective than treating them separately. Treatment often includes therapy and support groups. Therapy helps you explore underlying emotional triggers and develop healthier coping mechanisms, while support groups provide a sense of community and shared experience.

How can long-term recovery impact personal growth?

Long-term recovery can advance personal growth. Healing from addiction lets you resume your journey towards personal growth, and find renewed purpose in pursuing life goals. Therapy, support groups, and positive lifestyle changes can support ongoing recovery and personal growth. 

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