Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up. Considering how challenging adulthood can be, avoiding grown-up responsibilities might seem great. However, Peter Pan syndrome comes with a variety of issues. One of these unfortunately is an increased risk of substance abuse.

Peter Pan Syndrome

Also called failure to launch, Peter Pan syndrome is basically persistent immaturity. While many of us have days when we want to throw our to-do list in the trash and ditch responsibility, Peter Pan syndrome is different. Those who experience failure to launch often have not gone through the process of maturing.

As such, there is a high likelihood of them relying on others more than most adults do. For example, people with failure to launch may live at home with parents later in life or rely completely on a partner to support them in all their needs.

Symptoms of Peter Pan Syndrome

Common symptoms of Peter Pan syndrome include:

  • Adventurous, care-free attitude
  • Spontaneous or impulsive behavior
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Tendency to blame others for issues in life
  • Difficulty managing finances
  • Frequent procrastination
  • Difficulty and discomfort with commitment
  • The choice to spend time with others who have a similar outlook
  • Desire to avoid difficult decisions or conversations
  • Drug or alcohol use

Peter Pan Syndrome and Addiction

Unfortunately, Peter Pan syndrome can impact our risk for addiction. Below we will outline how the traits found in those with failure to launch increase addiction risk.

Emotional Intelligence

The ability to be aware of, control, and communicate emotions is an important foundation of emotional intelligence. These skills give us the ability to deal with daily problems that occur, such as feeling hurt in a conversation with a partner or dealing with a cranky child or co-worker. Lacking the ability to deal with our emotions and those of others can increase the risk of addiction.

Many of us with addiction know that using drugs or alcohol can be a way to cover up emotions. Instead of feeling certain negative emotions, turning to drugs or alcohol is a method of self-medicating. Researchers have found that emotional intelligence is associated with decreased risk for substance abuse. Conversely, low emotional intelligence is associated with an increased risk of high-risk behaviors, including drug and alcohol use.

People with Peter Pan syndrome tend to have decreased emotional intelligence. A lack of emotional intelligence appears in many forms. In Peter Pan syndrome, it can manifest as avoiding difficult conversations, blaming others, or having emotional outbursts. These are all signs of a lack of ability to feel, control, and communicate feelings in healthy and effective ways.


Another quality found in Peter Pan syndrome is impulsivity. Being impulsive means acting without thinking. It is commonly seen in youth and generally decreases as youth enter adulthood. For those who have failed to launch, impulsivity is common.

Unfortunately, impulsivity is highly correlated with addiction and substance use. It has been shown to increase vulnerability to substance use. While more research is needed to understand how impulsivity and addiction interact and why specifically this occurs, the correlation is clear. Peter Pan syndrome is characterized as high impulsivity, making people with the syndrome more likely to use substances and become addicted.


As we grow into adults, we learn to take responsibility for ourselves. This includes our feelings, physical health, mental health, and more. Eventually, we may even take on more responsibility by entering into relationships, adopting pets, or having children. Meanwhile, those with Peter Pan syndrome often avoid responsibility as much as they can. Adult relationships become about dependence, rather than a relationship between two mature adults.

Avoiding taking responsibility puts us at risk for addiction. When we are not able to take care of our well-being, we rely on others and substances to do so. This often means utilizing drugs or alcohol to change how we feel, rather than learning healthier coping mechanisms. While others impact how we feel, learning self-care is important. Ultimately, the responsibility for our well-being falls to us.

Treatment: Peter Pan Syndrome and Addiction

Commonly, from the outside, both the individual with Peter Pan syndrome and any enablers they have are criticized. The dependent adult is called lazy while the supporting adult is considered too lenient. Fortunately, this is a situation that often benefits from professional intervention.

If you or a loved one is struggling with symptoms of Peter Pan syndrome or failure to launch, there is no need to feel shame. Many options can help. Counseling for families, couples, and/or individuals can help build the skills needed to mature and set boundaries. At 449 Recovery, we recognize the challenge of Peter Pan syndrome and offer counseling that can help.

Mental health disorders and addiction are commonly co-occurring. For many, treatment involves addressing both physical addiction and behaviors or mental health disorders that influence our recovery. Finding a treatment program that helps you learn the skills needed to recover long-term is important. This may look like dual diagnosis treatment, which integrates mental health and addiction treatments.

Peter Pan syndrome impacts many individuals. The behaviors found in Peter Pan syndrome impact an individual’s risk of addiction, and often substance use is found with Peter Pan syndrome. At 449 Recovery, we offer counseling for individuals, couples, and families to address Peter Pan syndrome. We teach clients the skills needed to be aware of, control, and communicate emotions. Our programs also teach clients how to build their lives as adults and decrease their risk of addiction. Addiction and other mental health disorders are treated simultaneously. Our goal is to help our clients learn the skills needed to recover from the mental health conditions that are negatively impacting their lives. Call us today at (949) 435-7449 to learn more.