The film comedy Step Brothers is the story of 39-year-old Brennan Huff (played by Will Ferrell) and 40-year-old Dale Doback (played by John C. Reilly) both of whom are still living at home. They are very immature and show no intention of moving toward living independently.
The 2008 movie satirized the “failure to launch” phenomenon, a situation in which young people appear unable to leave the security of the parental home to begin living independently. A corollary trend are the “boomerang kids,” who move out but fail to become independent and return home to live with their parents again.
The millennial generation (defined as people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s) in particular has been staying in the family home much longer than previous generation.
There are many reasons for this trend. Today’s 18-34-year-olds face tremendous financial insecurity combined with a challenging job market. The skyrocketing cost of a college education has led to formidable indebtedness. Millennials also tend to postpone marriage or stay single. Home ownership hasn’t been this low since the 1960s.
At the same time, the young adult population is increasing in size. In 2015, there were nearly 3 million more adults ages 18 to 34 than there were in 2007. Over the course of the recent recession and recovery the share of young adults living independently declined. Pew Research Center data indicates that in the “first third of 2015, 67 percent of Millennials were living independently, compared with 69 percent of 18-34-year-olds living apart from family in 2010 and 71 percent in 2007. Most of the decline in independent living since 2007 can be attributed to more young adults living in their parents’ homes. In the first third of 2015, 26 percent of Millennials lived with their parents. At the beginning of the recovery in 2010, 24 percent of young adults were living with parents, and in 2007 only 22 percent were.”
Often there is a perceived lack of purpose which combined with the failure to achieve independence can lead to feelings of anger and anxiety as well as inadequacy and aimlessness.
If the young person has not developed the emotional maturity to deal confidently which life’s challenges, this state of mind can all too easily lead to substance abuse. Failure to launch and substance use disorders are often closely interlinked. The substance use can suppress all motivation to go out and seek an independent life. On the other hand, the anxiety caused by the failure to find a job or finish a college degree can lead to self-medication with illicit drugs or alcohol.
Once the serious consequences of drug abuse become apparent, it becomes even harder for the young adult to strike out on their own. If life has become unmanageable because of substance use, managing a household or a career is no longer possible.
Sometimes, the substance abuse is the reason the parents ask the young adult to come back home. They want to help but might be defensive about seeking treatment because they feel stigmatized (“what does that say about us as parents?”).
If the substance use disorder is severe, parents can easily be overwhelmed and residential treatment is often the best option. If failure to launch is an important factor in an SUD, it needs to be addressed as part of a comprehensive treatment approach.
Decision Point Center employs a Emotional Maturity & Motivation model designed to help young people develop the mentality to successfully gain momentum in life. Our mission is not just cessation but engagement. Stopping substance abuse and misuse is essential to restoring health. At Decision Point, we recognize the symptoms of failure to launch and address these in our 90-day residential treatment program.
Michael Rass is an experienced broadcast and web journalist with a passion for global humanitarian issues, and policies and practices affecting the health of individuals and communities. In addition to Michael’s extensive reporting background, he also consults on digital and social media (@mikerass). Michael also does first-hand reporting and writes articles for Decision Point Center about alcohol and drug addiction treatment, the societal and cultural impact of the illegal drug epidemic in the US and abroad, and healthcare policy regarding treatment of drug abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders.