If you’ve ever struggled or watched a loved one struggle with addiction, you know how difficult it can be. It affects every aspect of your life, from your health to your relationships to your career, it may take all of your strength every day to fight it.
One of the biggest challenges when you have a substance use disorder is how misunderstood the condition is. Far too many people think that addiction is a choice or that it’s a sign of a lack of willpower. Substance abuse is incredibly complex, though, and its impact is far-reaching. Learning more about the disorder will help you find compassion for yourself or for your loved ones who are facing it.
Addiction affects people of all ages, ethnicities, and income levels. It’s possible for anyone to develop a substance use disorder, but the issue is especially common for millennials. Today, adults in their 20s and 30s face a number of obstacles, which may explain the rise in addiction rates and in mental health problems overall.
If you’re not a millennial yourself, you probably know someone who is. Understanding why substance abuse is such a big issue for millennials can help you recognize the risk factors in yourself or a loved one.
Alarming Facts on Millennials and Addiction
There are a lot of misconceptions about what addiction is and what it isn’t, but the numbers don’t lie. Here are some jarring statistics about millennials and substance abuse:
• According to data from the CDC, millennials are the most likely age group to die from alcohol or drug abuse.
• Drug-related deaths have increased by 400 percent in the last two decades, largely because of the opioid crisis.
• Alcohol is the most common drug of choice for millennials and for older generations, and marijuana is the second drug of choice for millennials. Other types of addiction are also common in this age group, though.
• Prescription painkiller abuse is more common for millennials than for any older generation.
• About 20 percent of people with depression or anxiety also have a substance use disorder.
Why Do Millennials Have Such a High Addiction Risk?
It’s impossible to address a crisis without getting to the root of the problem. We know that millennials are more likely to struggle with substance abuse and that this substance abuse can be fatal. Understanding why is more complex.
The world has changed dramatically in the last few decades, and the environment millennials came of age in was very different from the environment older generations experienced. Not only did millennials face unique challenges in their formative years, but there are still issues in the world today that primarily affect millennials.
Here Are 4 Factors That Might Be Involved in the Rising Rates of Substance Abuse
Millennials have faced immense financial hardship, and it can feel inescapable. Many graduated high school or college around the time of the Great Recession, so they struggled with low wages and high unemployment rates throughout much of their 20s. Wages still haven’t kept up with the cost of living, so it’s not uncommon for rent payments to amount to half of a millennial’s income. Student loans have skyrocketed, too, leading to even more financial stress for young adults.
Stress is a major risk factor for substance abuse, and financial problems are a major source of stress. When you feel like you can’t get ahead financially no matter how hard you work, you might turn to anything that takes your mind off of the problem. Unfortunately, substance abuse only numbs you. It doesn’t take away the issue, so millennials can quickly become dependent on substances as a coping mechanism.
Millennials are young, but that doesn’t make them immune to health issues. People can face chronic health problems or medical emergencies at any age, and the rising costs of healthcare can put even more financial strain on millennials.
Younger adults may turn to substances to self-medicate if they have chronic pain or other health problems, or they may start to struggle with the opioids that are prescribed to them. Today, most doctors have started using more discretion when prescribing addictive painkillers. However, a lot of millennials came of age when doctors were still prescribing opioids very liberally. This could explain why opioids are a drug of choice for millennials and why drug fatalities have increased so much recently.
Millennials are the first generation to experience social media as teenagers, and we’re still exploring the long-term effects that may have on mental health. The oldest millennials were in their late 20s or early 30s when social media and smartphones started taking root in our culture. Younger millennials, though, had access to social media throughout their teens and early 20s.
Older generations use social media, too, but platforms like Facebook and Instagram might have a stronger effect on your mental health when you experience them at a younger age. Most people only put their best moments online, but we all tend to compare ourselves to what we see on social media anyway. This leads to more stress, anxiety, and depression, which increases the risk of substance abuse.
Posting on social media might be connected to addiction as well. Getting likes and comments on a post triggers the reward center of your brain, which feels similar to the immediate satisfaction you get from using a substance.
Ultimately, substance abuse is a mental health problem, and millennials are dealing with a lot of hardships that can take a toll on their mental and emotional health. Unemployment or underemployment, student debt, rising healthcare costs, uncertainty about the future, and so many other issues are contributing to anxiety and depression in younger adults.
In a moment of intense emotional stress, turning to substances may seem like the easiest way to cope. It provides a short but immediate relief from everything weighing on your mind. This relief doesn’t last forever, though, so people have to keep seeking more and more until this unhealthy coping mechanism has taken over their lives.
What to Do if You’re Struggling
If you’re struggling with addiction, remember that you’re not alone. A substance use disorder can feel isolating, but millions of people have faced this challenge and are now living addiction-free. The best thing you can do for yourself is reach out for help.
Speaking with a trusted friend or relative can be helpful when you’re trying to overcome a substance use disorder. They can help you find professional support, or they can simply offer a listening ear when you need it. If you’re not comfortable talking to a friend or family member, consider reaching out to a counselor directly.
Addiction therapy is one of the most valuable resources for recovery. Overcoming substance abuse requires you to process the mental or emotional pain that drove you to substances in the first place, and addiction therapy provides a safe and supportive environment for you to do this work. It’s a chance to learn about yourself, overcome emotional challenges, and develop healthy coping skills so that substance use is no longer your only option.