What Is Delayed Transition to Adulthood?

Delayed Transition to Adulthood is less a diagnosis and more of a presentation of other diagnoses like anxiety, depression, and processing disorders like ADHD. It is a form of social withdrawal that relies on parental support to sustain itself and thus is commonly referred to as Failure to Launch because it typically afflicts young adults.

However, calling Failure to Launch is problematic because that nomenclature creates a sense of shame in the individual and may hinder the therapeutic process. Delayed transition is more accurate due to the evidence that this condition is treatable.

Delayed Transition to Adulthood is more prevalent in males (close to 80%) than females and shows up in all Western cultures, owing to its privileged nature. It is often incited when an individual experiences an instance of failure, which for most people is a normal experience; however here, the individual perceives it as a deep personal failing. This is fostered by parents who want to shield the child from experiencing discomfort, creating a cycle of learned helplessness.

Granted, many families Western countries live in multigenerational households, and it’s quite common for sons and daughters to live at home into adulthood. It’s also common for parents to provide their adult children with some money, whether that’s to buy a house or as large financial gifts. It’s also common for folks struggling with anxiety, depression, and ADHD to experience and impediment towards independence.

The key distinction here is that most folks in these conditions have self-actualized and have full-time jobs, careers, and healthy relationships. Many folks with anxiety, depression, and ADHD live adult lives.

The distinction with Delayed Transition to Adulthood is that the individual is completely dependent on the parent, is socially isolated (social engagement takes place solely online), reliant on media, few-to-no responsibilities at home, a disturbed sleep schedule, and sometimes a dependency on substances.

Common Symptoms

Although symptoms of depression and anxiety are most pronounced, the term symptom, which means a physical or mental feature, is less apt given its clinical nature. Delayed Transition to Adulthood presents as characteristics of how one lives. These include:

  • Unemployment or under-employment
  • Poor sleep patterns and poor sleep hygiene
  • Poor hygiene (tendency to avoid brushing teeth, showering, and cleaning room)
  • Low tolerance for stress and discomfort
  • Porn and internet addiction
  • No interest in responsibilities
  • Excessive fear of failure and/or rejection
  • Avoidant style
  • Low persistence: behavior is guided by emotion over plans or necessity
  • May have big goals but struggles to follow through on them
  • “Boneless” life with no structure or routine
  • High anxiety coupled with fears, panic attacks, and phobias
  • High levels of guilt and shame
  • Anger, rage, and resentment at family, friends, and the world
  • Excessive boredom and/or low tolerance for boredom
  • Grandiosity: unrealistic belief that only the rich and famous are successful
  • Dread for the future
  • Disillusionment with adulthood


Delayed Transition to Adulthood is not a disability within itself. Rather, it is a classification of lifestyle that is completely supported by the individual’s parents and thus enables them to avoid interacting in normative ways. Therefore, it is common for other diagnoses to be in place. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Major Depressive Disorder
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Substance Use Disorder (specifically cannabis)
  • Sleep Disorders
  • Personality Disorders* (Narcissistic, Dependent, OCD)

Personality disorders should be caveated. Most young men display narcissistic traits; therefore, if one is in a state of delay then it’s common to display these traits and not necessarily emblematic of a personality disorder, though it could be misdiagnosed as such. Sleep disorders are also common given the absence of a structured schedule. This could be changed as work is introduced.

Types of Treatment

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a third-wave cognitive behavioral approach that is ideal for delayed transition to adulthood. First, what is ACT and what do we mean by third-wave cognitive behavioral approach?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) was formed in the late 1970s by Aaron Beck and was based on Cognitive Theory, started by Albert Bandura in the 1960s. Bandura theorized that how one thought impacts how one feels. He linked external events (stimuli) to the thoughts (internal process, reaction) that lead to behaviors (observable reactions). Building on this, CBT is the intervention that helps an individual identify this process and actively reframe or manage how they react while modifying the core negative belief that spawns automatic negative thoughts. Second-wave cognitive approaches like Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) took this a step further with more active reality testing and mindfulness techniques that calm the nervous system and raise conscious awareness.

ACT is considered third-wave because it came around later. It consists of six components: contact with the present moment, mindfulness, defusing, acceptance, values, and committed action.

It works for delayed transition to adulthood by fostering psychological flexibility, the ability to act in face of intense emotions. Folks learn to manage their distress while finding the sort of purpose that helps motivate them out of their situation. It includes gaining an understanding of one’s values and identifies achievable goals. It also involves understanding the connection between context and meaning. This process starts small to help folks gain mastery before leading towards self-efficacy.

Family therapy is also helpful for individuals struggling with this condition because it addresses the enabling factors. Family therapy also helps alter the environment in ways that foster independence and self-efficacy. This approach blends ACT with Structured Family Therapy to improve communication, establish clear boundaries and responsibilities, and provide positive reinforcement.

When to Seek Treatment

If the problem has persisted for over six months.

What Can I Do Before My First Session

After speaking with our therapist, you will fill out a few questionnaires to help with the assessment process, which your therapist will use this to dive deeper into how we can help you. If you’re interested in learning more about delayed transition to adulthood or ACT, please click on the link below and go to my bio page.

Article by: Reuben Brody, LCSW – Asheville, NC

Rubin Brody - I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker Associate (LCSWA),










Reuben Brody – Reuben is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker Associate (LCSWA), and received his Master of Social Work from the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work. His modalities include cognitive approaches like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), mindfulness, narrative therapy, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I).



Patterson, Randy. Failure to Launch: Helping Young Adults and Parents Navigate to Independence. Praxis CET Course,  September, 2023


The Beck Institute Cognitive Behavioral Therapy