Substance abuse is on the rise among American teenagers and young adults. We live in a culture that heavily promotes binge drinking and partying. This promotes an exceedingly high level of mental illness. So it’s unsurprising there is a significant increase in overdoses in young adults. Vaping and marijuana use are at an all-time high among college-age adults (19-22) which runs parallel with overdoses that are cutting thousands of young lives short every year due to hard drugs, like heroin and fentanyl.
We all know growing up isn’t easy. And with events like COVID-19, today’s young adults are faced with tremendous stress and risk factors for depression and anxiety. One of the biggest obstacles impacting young adults’ mental health is they are not fully aware that they have a problem. Those who began experiencing symptoms in early adolescence may think their depression and anxiety are personality characteristics rather than medical conditions.
Drinking and drug misuse often become commonplace for those who misdiagnose their own ailments, particularly among peer groups who encourage one another to partake in the behavior. The result is an increase of young people unaware of the damage they are causing to themselves.
Statistics on Young Adult Mental Illness & Substance Abuse
According to the most recent data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 8.9 million young adults reported having a mental illness in 2018, and 5.1 million individuals reported struggling with substance abuse.  Unfortunately, only two out of every five received treatment for their mental health, while nine out of 10 did not get help for their substance use disorder.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, overdose deaths surged after falling for the first time in 25 years in 2018.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 5 percent increase from 2019 to 2020, with initial figures showing 72,000 Americans dead from drug-related causes. From the start of the year to May 2020, 82,000 people had died from an overdose. With drug abuse 13 percent higher in 2020 and the use of synthetic opioids on the rise, young adults today are at far greater risk than previous generations for developing an addiction and losing their lives.
Risk Factors for Young Adults
People in their late teens and early 20s face unique risk factors for substance abuse and mental illness. Around 70 percent of all mental health disorders present themselves by age 14. But others, like schizophrenia, are prone to begin during someone’s 20s. The natural emotional challenges of growing up coupled with social pressures and psychological problems can cause many college-age adults to start relying on drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism.
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During young adulthood, many people are living on their own for the first time. While this prospect is exciting, it can also pose serious challenges and negative emotional effects, like increased depression and loneliness. The most common social settings for young adults to gather include bars, clubs, and parties. These places are often heavily laden with people consuming drugs or alcohol. Those with mental health problems like social anxiety and depression are more likely to start drinking or using drugs to alleviate their symptoms. Often this is an attempt to become more sociable and fit in with their peers.
How to Reduce Overdoses in Young Adults
Parents can speak to their teens and young adults about their mental health and substance abuse. They should also discuss the unexpected way addiction can creep up on someone and encourage their child to seek help for any issues they may be experiencing.
For someone who is currently struggling with mental health or substance use, therapy and rehab are potential options. Not everyone is ready to seek treatment immediately, and that is okay. Research can be a good first step. It is never easy to admit you or someone you love has a substance abuse problem. But honesty and awareness are fundamental to getting the right kind of help.
Prevention planning is key to saving lives, but no one is ever truly a lost cause. Recognizing a problem is the first step toward getting help. And it starts with an honest look at one’s life and admitting that changes need to happen. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse, get connected with one of our professionals by contacting us today.
Sources: https://www.samhsa.gov/young-adults  https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/07/15/upshot/drug-overdose-deaths.html
About the author:
Nicole earned her doctoral degree in Psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy at California School of Professional Psychology. Her doctoral thesis was a grounded theory study exploring the role of alienation and connectedness in the life course of addiction. She specializes in treating addiction and trauma. She is certified in DBT and EMDR, two of the most highly regarded evidence-based methods in psychotherapy. Dr. Doss is a strong LGBT advocate and provides open and affirming support to her LGBT clients.
Dr. Doss’s earlier education included graduating cum laude from the University of California, Irvine in June of 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. While there, she received honors recognition by Psi Chi and Golden Key honor societies.
Nicole has been working with alcoholics and addicts in our California drug and alcohol rehab center as an advisor and counselor for many years. She is passionate about providing quality counseling and care to her clients. Her main focus is on integrating the 12 Step and disease models of addiction with experiential therapeutic theory. She is married to Greg; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.