How Emotional Immaturity Contributes to Substance Abuse

Authored by Granite Recovery Centers    Reviewed by James Gamache    Last Updated: August 27th, 2021

James Gamache Medical Reviewer
Jim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) and Licensed Masters Level Addictions Counselor (MLADC). He has been working in the field of mental health/addiction treatment since 1995. Jim earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services from Springfield College in 2000, and a Masters Degree in Social Work from Boston University in 2002. In 2002 Jim was hired by the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester holding the position of Clinical Case Manager. From 2004-2019, Jim was employed at WestBridge Inc. During his time at WestBridge, Jim held the following positions; Clinician, Team Leader, Director, & Chief Operations Officer. In 2019 Jim transitioned employment to GateHouse Treatment Center as the Clinical Director for 10 months. In October of 2020 Jim transitioned to Granite Recovery Centers and is currently serving as the Senior VP of Clinical Services and Quality Assurance.

Everyone faces challenges throughout their lives, whether in the form of difficult relationships, internal struggles, or unexpected and painful events. Emotional maturity – one’s ability to understand and respond to their emotions and those of others – is a large factor in how we react to such stressful situations. Some people respond in ways that are healthy and productive, while others turn to damaging patterns of behavior and self-destructive coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse. Feelings and emotions are at the root of all our life experiences, so it is no wonder that those who struggle with addiction often tend to have difficulty relating to and controlling their emotions.

Signs of Emotional Immaturity

While it is often through no fault of their own, a person who hasn’t had the right environment or support to develop maturity in emotional response will typically present the following characteristics:


  • Helplessness in dealing with everyday stresses
  • Noticeable and easy-to-provoke stressed response
  • Low self-esteem
  • Exhibit characteristics of depression and anxiety
  • Belief that they are being targeted
  • Disappointment when fail to meet own high expectations
  • Intensely irritated a lot of the time
  • Tend to blame others and universe for things not going their way


How Emotional Immaturity Leads to Personal Issues

Emotional maturity is linked to a person’s development. Research shows that while adolescents may reason as well as adults, they often lack the same level of emotional maturity. Any number of factors may lead to emotional immaturity in adults, from lack of supportive parenting in childhood to underlying trauma. Whatever the cause, emotional immaturity can be crippling to one’s emotional and mental well-being. The inability to be in touch with, and to properly manage one’s own emotions inevitably leads to a warped self-image, dysfunctional relationships, and unhealthy attempts to cope with unacknowledged or unchecked feelings.

Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms and Substance Abuse

One of the key differences between emotionally mature and immature adults is the presence of different styles of coping mechanisms. Unhealthy styles of coping, such as escapist or avoidant styles, can include destructive habits like substance abuse. Many people engage in substance abuse in an attempt to escape powerful emotions such as grief, anger, or guilt. This desperate need to escape one’s own feelings does nothing to address the source of the problem. Instead, it only lets the source of the pain fester, adding new strain to one’s physical, mental, and social health. As damaging as these behaviors are, they can be corrected. Emotional maturity is a skill comprised of psychological attitudes and behavioral responses towards emotions, which can be learned and mastered.

Learning Emotional Maturity in Recovery

A comprehensive recovery program must address fundamental negative beliefs about one’s self utilizing cognitive and behavioral therapies. An effective treatment plan will help the patient develop the decision-making and problem-solving skills needed to respond to stressful situations and emotional difficulties in safe, productive ways. Treatment should involve replacing unhealthy coping mechanisms with healthier ones, such as stress management strategies like meditation and exercise, and finding a supportive community. The presence of such a support network is essential in helping the patient foster healthier relationship dynamics in their life.

Co-Occurring Treatment for Addicts

Emotional immaturity and addiction go hand-in-hand, with each contributing to the other. Emotional maturity is difficult to develop, but can be learned. Granite Recovery Centers offers comprehensive, personalized drug rehab treatment plans that treat co-occurring disorders (such as conditions related to emotional immaturity) that address the destructive emotional and behavioral patterns that lead to drug addiction. If you or your loved one wants to beat addiction and learn healthier ways to live, contact us at 855.712.7784 or send us a message. We can help.

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At Granite Recovery Centers, we want to provide accurate information about health and addiction so that our readers can make informed decisions.

We have credentialed medical doctors & clinicians who specialize in addiction treatment review the information on our website before it is published. We use credible sources such as government websites and journal articles when citing statistics or other medically related topics.