The Dangers of Ageism in Treatment

by AdamS on October 6, 2012

Often times when we hear about ageist behavior, it falls in the direction from the younger to the older. We think of condescending remarks and patronizing notions that make the elderly feel like they have become lower class citizens and should be monitored like children. However, when it comes to teen drug treatment, the ageist tables are turned. Mindfulness of this dilemma is crucial in keeping teens confident in their pursuit of sobriety instead of feeling like they don’t belong there because of their age.

Singled Out

An example of this kind of remark is, “you are so fortunate to have found recovery at your age.” Now, the person who might have said it may have meant well, but that immediately reinforces the feeling of being outside the norm. They are immediately made to feel like they are fundamentally different, and will alienate them from the rest of the participants. This can be very dangerous as they move through crucial aspects of the program where they need to be transparent and honest about their struggle with addiction.

Safe Space Destroyed

Alcoholics Anonymous is a place that is built for anyone that has a desire to stop drinking and to come alongside others from all walks of life for support and encouragement. It an opportunity for people from all races, religions, genders, social standings and everything in between to have a space where they are free to be themselves devoid of judgment and scrutiny. When individuals are made to feel like the odd-man-out, then the program is no longer the inclusive safe haven that it was made to be.

Reinforced Insecurities

If younger individuals in Alcoholics Anonymous are constantly reminded of the difference of their lives compared to others that are pursuing sobriety, then it says to them that their struggle with alcoholism isn’t legitimate. It is true that young people may not have been with their addiction long enough to experience the horrors that alcoholism can bring with age, but that also means that they probably already battle with whether or not they actually need to be there. Many alcoholics under the age of 25 partied alongside friends that have moved on to schools, jobs, families and other credible life changes. For those people, drugs and alcohol were just a phase, but for those that became bound to addiction constantly ask themselves whether or not they could live the rest of their lives as a functioning addicts while pursuing similar things to make them seem more normal.


Regardless of how harmless that a person aims to be when they comment on the age of a young alcoholic, it reduces the legitimacy of their problem. While it is much less visible to direct ageist comments at a younger individual than an elderly individual, it can be received as an undermining comment that makes them feel as if they don’t belong there because of lack of life experience or evidence of a real struggle with alcohol. Teen addiction is a very serious issue that should be treated as a valid problem rather that minimizing it to a foolish delusion.

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