Helping African-American Emerging Adults At Risk for Substance Use Disorder: Developing Resilience


October 2, 2018


Fred Dyer, Ph.D., CADC



Given the multiple risk factors for heavy substance use which impacts many African America Emerging Adults, ranging from easy access to drugs, poorly performing schools, father hunger, the presence of gangs within communities, early criminal justice involvement and discrimination, how can those of us who are committed to working with this population assist them in living a drug free life?


The answer is to help African American Emerging adults at risk for a substance use disorder develop resilience.

There are many definitions of resilience. Garbarino (1999) says that resilience is more than outside success, more than graduating from high school, staying out of jail, or holding a job. It also means developing a positive sense of self, a capacity for intimacy, and a feeling that life is meaningful. According to Walsh (2016) resilience can be defined as the capacity to rebound from adversity, strengthened and more resourceful. It is an active process of endurance, and growth in response to crises and challenges.

...resilience is more than outside success, more than graduating from high school, staying out of jail, or holding a job. It also means developing a positive sense of self, a capacity for intimacy, and a feeling that life is meaningful. 
There is a Japanese belief that everyone has the DNA, the trait and the cells to be resilient, and that resiliency must be practiced, developed and controlled (Bell and Suggs, 1998). Wolin and Wolin (1996) lists 12 characteristics of resilience. From their list the one which I believe encapsulates the remaining 11 is having a goal to live for, which gives life meaning and purpose.

Helping African Emerging Adults identify Meaning/purpose is a protective factor from developing a substance use disorder. Even with the presence of risk factors including poverty, discrimination, family alcohol and drug use etc., purpose can help them to thrive in the midst of risk.

To help African American emerging adult clients tap into purpose, I ask them a range of questions:

  • How did you survive that? 
  • How have you been able to endure so much? 
  • What are your previous life challenges preparing you to do with the rest of your life? 
  • Do the challenges you have faced help create a mission for you? 
  • What is your life purpose? 
  • What are some steps you are willing to take today towards that purpose?

Read more from Dr. Dyer in the Online Museum of African American Addictions, Treatment, and Recovery


Resources

Bell, C., Suggs, H., (1998). Using Sports to Strengthen Resilience in Children: Training Heart. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America. Volume 7, Issue 4, October 1998, Pages 859-865

Garbarino, J., (1999). Lost Boys: Why our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them. Anchor Books. New York, NY.

Walsh, F., (2016). Strengthening Family Resilience. Guilford Press. New York, NY.

Wolin, S., Wolin, S., (1996). The Resilient Self: How Survivors of Troubled Families Rise Above Adversity. Random House. New York, NY.


About our Guest blogger:

Fred Dyer, PH.D, CADC is a nationally know Behavioral Health Trainer and Consultant. He is the author of over 100 articles and a specialist in adolescent and emerging adult treatment and recovery. He is a regular contributor to the Online Museum of African American Addictions Recovery.

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