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Young Adult Substance Abuse


All too frequently, parents are not aware of the extent their young adult’s alcohol and drug use. They easily dismiss illicit substance use as “kids being kids,” and refer to their own youthful experimentations. However, ignoring a young adult’s drug or alcohol use could lead to a serious substance abuse problem that spirals out of control. Rather than turning a blind eye, parents and guardians should educate themselves about drugs and alcohol, pay close attention to their child’s behavior, and, most importantly, communicate with their teenager. Drugs and alcohol are an intimidating topic, but it far better to suffer through an awkward moment than contend with a lifetime of addiction.

Teen and young adult drug abuse in the United States is highest in the world. In 2009, the U.S. Government’s National Institute on Drug Abuse found that 19.9% of 8th Graders, 36% of 10th Graders, and 46.7% of 12th Graders participated in illicit drug use in their lifetime. Statistics from other sources state that more than five million high school students binge drink at least once a month. While overall narcotics use has decreased, abuse of prescription medication continues to rise. 52% of 12th graders who abused prescription medication said they bought or received them from a friend or relative, while 30% had a legitimate prescription. What do all these facts and figures mean? By the time your a young adult graduates high school, half of his or her classmates have used drugs. Young adults have easier access to a wider variety of drugs, including amphetamines like Adderall or psychoactives like Xanax, that are more socially acceptable to possess.

No teen tries drugs or alcohol thinking he or she will become addicted, and yet it happens all the time. Young adult drinking at a party can be the beginning of alcoholism. Experimentation with drugs can quickly evolve into a dangerous, unshakeable habit. Perhaps the pressures of school, work, or athletics have lead him or her to take performance enhancing drugs. This can include steroids to build muscle, amphetamines to help study, or even meth to lose weight.  Some teens start using drugs as a way to cope, whether that be trouble with a classmate, problems at home, or simply excess stress. This is perhaps the most dangerous reason someone begins to abuse alcohol or drugs, especially when you consider that approximately 30% of adolescent suicides are attributed to depression aggravated by drug or alcohol abuse.

So, what is a parent to do? The most important thing is to speak candidly with your children about drugs and drinking. Be honest with your young adult. Tell them about your experiences with drug and alcohol, and share stories of people you know who have suffered greatly as a result of their addiction. If you’re unsure what to tell them, research the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. For example, you can explain that street drugs are often combined with substances that can lethally react in the body. You can tell them about the dangers of prescription drug abuse, whether they are doing them for the high or as performance enhancers. You can describe the risks of binge drinking and drunk driving. It is not about scaring your child straight or telling them to just say no, it is about educating them so they can make informed decisions. Additionally, speaking with them in a supportive manner will encourage them to come to you with questions or problems about drugs, alcohol, or anything else.

Be an active participant in your young adult’s life. By setting boundaries, knowing who their friends are, being aware of their comings and goings, and asking the difficult questions you will eliminate the likelihood they will participate in illicit and dangerous activities and increase the chances you will notice it if they do, sooner rather than later. They may roll their eyes, stomp their feet, or fight with you about their curfew, but that typical teenage behavior will dissipate as they move from adolescence into adulthood. The same cannot be definitively said about drug and alcohol abuse.