Failure to Launch Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

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What exactly is “failure to launch” syndrome? It refers to a young adult, typically between the ages of 18 and 29, who lives at home and remains largely dependent on their parents or guardians. Unlike other multigenerational living arrangements, someone with “failure to launch” syndrome is typically not in school or working steadily. 

Instead of meaning the young adult is “lazy” or “spoiled,” it usually indicates they struggle with their mental health or self-esteem. The stigma around this syndrome can intensify feelings of shame and inadequacy in the young adult, making their underlying issues even worse.

Many things can contribute to a failure to launch in young adults

Common Causes and Contributing Factors of Failure to Launch

Several factors commonly contribute to failure to launch syndrome.

  • Difficulty managing emotions: Stress impairs some young adults’ ability to regulate their emotions and reactions. Conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, or PTSD can make it hard to cope with challenges and transition to independence.
  • Impaired executive functioning: The prefrontal cortex, responsible for planning and decision-making, develops well into the 20s. As a result, some young adults struggle with skills like time management, problem-solving, and self-control. 
  • Unrealistic expectations: Young adults may feel overwhelmed by the perfectionistic standards they hold for themselves or perceive from others. Viewing curated social media posts about peers’ lives can fuel beliefs that they “should” have achieved certain milestones already. 
  • Childhood experiences: Traumatic experiences in childhood or adolescence, like abuse or neglect, generate shame and low self-esteem and hinder the development of self-efficacy. 
  • Fear of failure: Anxiety about potential failures or mistakes leads some young adults to avoid opportunities to launch. They may remain in a state of extended adolescence to circumvent the possibility of not succeeding if they try to become independent.
  • Substance abuse or behavioral addictions: Some young adults turn to drugs, alcohol, gambling, gaming, or other addictive behaviors to escape the stresses of daily life, work or school pressures, social anxiety, or other mental health issues. 
  • Lack of life skills: Some young adults lack certain life skills that are essential for independence, like money management, decision-making, problem-solving, communication, and more. 
  • Overparenting: Parents who are overly involved in their child’s life by constantly solving their problems, shielding them from failure, or doing things for them risk enabling a failure to launch. 

Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms

Some common signs of failure-to-launch syndrome include:

  • Little motivation or ambition. They seem apathetic and unmotivated, lacking goals or direction.
  • There is no clear life path. They don’t know what they want to do with their life or career and lack purpose or direction.
  • Poor work ethic. They struggle to keep a job or have a spotty employment history. They have trouble waking up on time and meeting deadlines or responsibilities.
  • Dependency on others. They continue to rely financially on parents or family members well into adulthood with no plan to become self-sufficient.
  • Lack of life skills. They haven’t mastered the basic skills needed to live independently, like managing money, cooking meals, or maintaining a household.
  • Narcissistic tendencies. They believe they are entitled to have things done for them and lack empathy for how their behavior impacts others.
  • Difficulty taking the initiative or responsibility. Having trouble getting started with adult responsibilities like finding a job, moving out, or continuing education.

If these signs resonate with you or a loved one, the good news is there are treatment options available, like therapy, life coaching, and making a plan to start developing essential life skills. 

Different types of therapy can help

Treatment of Failure to Launch Syndrome

Several treatment options are available to overcome failure to launch syndrome. 

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches you how to recognize and change unhealthy thought patterns related to increasing responsibilities and independence. CBT helps you view challenges in a more balanced and less frightening way.
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and mindfulness training help you live in the present instead of worrying about the past or future. These techniques teach you to accept unpleasant thoughts and feelings while still committing to meaningful actions. 
  • Biofeedback and neurofeedback help you gain awareness and control over your physical reactions to anxiety and stress. By changing your body’s response, you can positively impact your thoughts and emotions.
  • Career counseling helps you explore your interests and strengths, set goals, and develop strategies to start work or education. A counselor can increase your motivation and accountability.
  • Family therapy addresses dynamics between family members that may contribute to dependence and interdependence. Improving communication and setting boundaries can strengthen relationships and support independence.

Treatment may incorporate a combination of these options based on your unique situation and needs. The goal is to build confidence from the inside out by learning skills to manage emotions, thoughts, and behaviors better to launch into a meaningful, independent life.

Getting Your Teen Help is The First Step

Getting your teen help is the first step. We understand how difficult it can be to raise a child and guide them in the right direction. Call us right now at (877) 895-3231. The sooner you reach out for help, the sooner your family can find solutions and start making progress. 

At Launch Centers, our caring team of professionals has helped many families in situations just like yours. We know that you and your family have gone through several challenges as a result of your young adult’s failure to launch, and we can empathize with those experiences.

About Our Founder

Jose Hernandez, for over a decade, has been involved in alcohol and addiction recovery helping people succeed in overcoming substance abuse and regaining control of their lives. He has experience in all aspects of the recovery world, from facilitating entry into treatment as an intervention specialist to counseling and case management at rehabilitation facilities. Jose has worked one-on-one with individuals as a sober companion and with groups as a resident counselor at addiction treatment centers and is certified by the California Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (CAADAC) to practice as a substance abuse counselor.

Through his professional experiences in crisis intervention, drug and alcohol detoxification, substance abuse counseling, and relapse prevention, Jose has developed a unique plan for case management that bridges the gap between a person’s painful past of substance abuse and a future of sobriety.

At Riviera Recovery, a sober living facility with multiple locations, clients continue their transition from the supportive environment of a treatment center to living well and happily in the “real” world. The program he designed at Riviera Recovery personalizes treatment plans that enable clients, including those with a single or dual-diagnosed mental health disorder, to embrace a satisfying life.

His greatest endeavor has been establishing LAUNCH, a Los Angeles-based life skills intensive outpatient program for young adults. LAUNCH works with recovering men and women to establish personal vocational and educational goals and develop the tools to successfully meet them. His mission is to ensure that no one stands alone in his or her recovery.

Meet Our Clinical Team

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Jess Beck, LCSW

Clinical Director

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Eric Chaghouri, MD

Psychiatrist

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Chloe Kruskol, LCSW

Family Program Manager

Our Testimonials

Clients and Professionals Share Their Experience

  • HO

    Launch provided care on multiple levels. The highly skilled therapist coupled with the focus on purpose and long-term goals refocused my recovery from what previous treatment centers pushed onto me. I went from believing that I needed years of treatment to believing I needed years happiness and success. I began to focus on what I wanted to accomplish with my life. I came to realize all the things my addiction and mental illness had taken from me, and I used my future goals as a reason to never pick up again. Due to the passion that Launch instilled in me, I have pursued my future with excitement and dedication.

  • Nicole

    This place changed my life! I’ve had good laughs, good cries, shared a lot of heart to heart moments and grew a loving bond with everyone at Launch Centers. I will always be grateful!!! I really do miss it time to time. I highly recommend Launch Centers!

  • Joey

    The staff and clinicians are amazing and make you feel right at home from the second you walk in the door. I would absolutely recommend this place for a family member or close friend.

  • Ben

    This treatment facility has changed my life. I have always struggled with my mental health and this young adult program provided me with the necessary skills to launch to adulthood. I commend anyone who struggles with mental health or substance use (which was not me) to try this program out. It will change your life.

  • Conner

    Launch Centers Treatment was a major help to me. The therapists and staff genuinely cared about me and truly helped me to make a plan for my future. My personal therapists helped me to discover where some of my deeper issues came from. All of the staff worked tirelessly with me to talk through my issues, or just about life, and offered realistic solutions to my current problems and situation. All of the staff went above and beyond and advocated relentlessly for me. I am very grateful that I was able to have such a wonderful experience with Launch.

  • Adam

    In no uncertain terms Launch Centers changed my life. The staff at Launch are professional, knowledgable and relatable. They keep the format diverse and interesting which kept me engaged in the process. The greatest thing we can do in life is seek to improve ourselves. Launch gave me a skill set I consider to be invaluable in the journey of becoming the best version of myself. I would implore anybody considering Launch to step outside their comfort zone and go, you will not regret it.

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