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All You Need to Know About the Growing Issue of Substance Abuse in Young Adults

Most young adults have heard the warnings about substance abuse and how it can cause more harm than good. While many schools and other programs work to educate students about the consequences of drug and alcohol use, the issue of substance abuse in young adults continues to be a growing concern.

Continue reading this blog to gain a better understanding of the dangers of substance abuse and how these disorders can be prevented.

How Common is Substance Abuse in Young Adults?

Unfortunately, substance abuse in young adults is fairly common. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), young adults between the ages of 18-26 are becoming more prone to drug use and substance abuse in the U.S.

There are many factors that contribute to the overuse of drugs and alcohol in the lives of young adults. However, many researchers believe that the main underlying issue stems from their perception of drugs and alcohol.

One of the main culprits of this is social media. When young adults were asked if social media had an impact on their decision to experiment with drugs or alcohol, 1 in 2 individuals reported that social media made them feel that it was normal. Some even said they felt pressured to experiment because of what they saw on social media platforms.

Social media isn’t the only factor that’s influencing young adults to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Other factors such as home and social environments, experiencing past or current traumas, and struggling with mental health disorders, can all play a part as well.

Before we dive into how substance abuse affects young adults and their mental health, it’s important to know how common these issues are. Below, we’ve listed some key statistics that can give parents and guardians a better understanding of the problem as a whole.

  • Approximately 1 in 11 young adults is a heavy drinker (binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past 30 days).
  • Approximately 1 in 10 young adults has an alcohol use disorder.
  • Approximately 1 in 7 young adults has a substance use disorder.
  • Approximately 1 in 13 young adults has an illicit drug use disorder.
  • Approximately 1 in 17 young adults has a marijuana use disorder.
  • Approximately 1 in 100 young adults has an opioid use disorder.

Young woman struggling with mental health disorder.

How Does Substance Abuse Affect Young Adults?

Substance abuse can have many short and long-term effects on young adults. These can range from poor academic performance to mental and physical health issues. Many times, when young adults choose to experiment with drugs and alcohol, they aren’t thinking of the consequences that come afterward.

Knowing the dangers of substance abuse is important for parents and guardians as well as young adults because they can work to educate their children at home, in addition to whatever lessons they may be learning through school or community programs.

Academic Performance

Studies have shown that substance abuse in young adults can negatively affect their performance in school. This includes declining grades, an increase in absenteeism, a lack of concentration, and a greater risk of dropping out.

Physical Health

There is a much greater risk of developing physical health problems for young adults who struggle with substance abuse. Among the most common of these health issues are cardiovascular disease, lung disease, HIV/AIDS, cancer, stroke, and Hepatitis B and C.

In addition, substance abuse in young adults is known to cause more accidents resulting in injuries or fatalities. These include but are not limited to vehicle accidents, overdoses, and suicide.

Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the suicide prevention and crisis hotline, call us at 610-480-8919, or seek medical help at your local emergency room immediately.


People forget that substance abuse doesn’t only affect the individual, but also the people surrounding them. Young adults with substance abuse issues often alienate themselves from friends and family.

In some cases, individuals will fall into toxic friendships or relationships with people who may encourage their addiction. This can cause immense strain on once-healthy friends and family relationships.

Furthermore, substance use and abuse can often be perceived as socially acceptable ways to interact with peers. As a result, other young adults may not find the warning signs to be problematic. Since many young adults haven’t experienced isolation or financial strain yet, they lack a full understanding of the long-term consequences.

Economic Costs

Maintaining one’s substance use disorder can place a financial strain as well. Many young adults who are struggling with substance abuse or addiction find it harder to support themselves financially.

If an individual is spending the majority of their funds on feeding their addiction, it often leads to family members paying for the necessities such as bills, school, groceries, medical services, and more. This will inhibit an individual from becoming financially independent.

Young adult struggling with substance abuse.

How Does Substance Abuse Affect Mental Health?

It’s important to note that the mental health and well-being of young adults with substance abuse problems are also at great risk. Issues with short-term memory loss, motivation, psychomotor skills, and psychosexual/emotional development can form when an individual is abusing drugs or alcohol.

There are some cases where mental health disorders can make a young adult more susceptible to acquiring a substance abuse problem. But, in the same respect, young adults who become addicted to drugs or alcohol are more prone to developing a mental health disorder they may not have had before.

Studies have shown that substance-using young adults are at a greater risk of experiencing depression, anxiety, personality disorders, suicidal thoughts, attempts, and possible fatalities. When an individual forms a mental health disorder in addition to a substance abuse disorder, it’s known as a co-occurring disorder.

With this type of disorder, an individual will likely experience more severe symptoms, lower treatment engagement and response, higher rates of relapse (for both conditions), and an overall worsened prognosis.

Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the suicide prevention and crisis hotline, call us at 610-480-8919, or seek medical help at your local emergency room immediately.

What Are The Most Common Co-Occurring Disorders Among Young Adults?

. Below, we’ve listed which mental health disorders are most common among young adults.

  • Depression
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Bipolar Disorder
    • Type I
    • Type II
  • Personality and Mood Disorders
    • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
    • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Eating Disorders
    • Bulimia
    • Anorexia
  • Schizophrenia

Parents and guardians should be aware of the substances that are most often abused by young adults, these include but are not limited to:

Treating Substance Abuse Disorders

Learning about substance abuse in young adults can be overwhelming and leave parents and guardians feeling helpless. Remember that organizations, like Malvern Behavioral Health, have the resources and treatments available to help care for young adults who may be struggling.

When it comes to co-occurring disorders, most mental health professionals will suggest a variety of therapies and treatments. A mixture of these will provide a way for young adults to work on their mental and physical well-being:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Relapse Prevention
  • Psychoeducation
  • 12 Step Programs
  • Refuge Recovery
  • Smart Recovery

Young adults between the ages of 18 and 26 are often undergoing a number of physical, mental, and social transitions. When substance abuse comes into that equation, it can play a significant role in shaping an individual’s brain development, self-esteem, and self-awareness.

Co-occurring disorders treatment for young adults.

The best way to identify and address a potential co-occurring disorder is to be alert and know the warning signs. In doing this, parents and guardians can be ready if or when a problem arises.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health or substance abuse disorder, contact us on our website, or call us at 610-480-8919 to see how our team can guide them through recovery.