Millennials are a pretty optimistic group with a keen interest in social justice and environmental stewardship. While millennials have continued the steady decline of drug abuse that was started by Generation X, a substance use disorder in millennials is still a major problem.
Millennials between the ages of 18 and 20 have the highest rate of illegal drug abuse in the country, with 22.7 percent of millennials reporting past-month use.1 Twenty-one to 25-year-olds report the second highest rate of illegal drug abuse, with 21.5 percent reporting past-month use.
Perhaps most alarming is that five percent of younger millennials between the ages of 12 and 17—1.3 million young people—had a substance use disorder in 2014. The good news is that millennials have the highest rate of treatment of all the generations. But in order to get help for a substance use disorder, it must first be recognized and diagnosed.
Signs of Substance Use Disorder in Millennials
Substance use disorder in millennials is diagnosed using 11 criteria outlined in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. A substance use disorder is classified as mild if two or three criteria are met. If four or five criteria apply, it’s classified as a moderate disorder. Six or more criteria denotes a severe substance use disorder.
The criteria used to diagnose substance use disorders are:
- Using a substance in larger amounts or for a longer period of time than intended.
- Wanting to cut down or quit but not being able to.
- Spending a lot of time seeking, obtaining, using and recovering from using a substance.
- Experiencing intense cravings for a substance.
- Neglecting responsibilities at work, home or school due to substance use.
- Continuing to use the substance even though it’s causing problems.
- Neglecting activities once enjoyed in favor of using the substance.
- Engaging in high-risk behaviors, such as unsafe sex or driving under the influence, while using the substance.
- Using the substance even though it’s causing mental or physical health problems.
- Developing a tolerance, which means you need increasingly larger doses of the substance in order to get the desired effects.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the substance use stops.
Underlying Causes of Substance Use Disorder in Millennials
A substance use disorder in millennials may have a number of underlying causes. Mental illness, stress and a history of trauma are common roots of addiction.
The journal Qualitative Social Work recently published a study finding that millennials’ mental health problems are more numerous and severe than those of prior generations. Millennials have a higher incidence of stress and anxiety than other generations, driven largely by a culture of perfectionism resulting from intense parental and societal pressure.
Treating Substance Use Disorder in Millennials
Good intentions and willpower are rarely enough to end a substance use disorder. Professional help is almost always needed. That’s because in order to treat the disorder, the underlying causes must be effectively addressed.
Treatment involves a range of traditional and complementary therapies that help individuals delve into the underlying causes of the addiction. They learn to identify harmful patterns of thought and behavior and replace these with healthier ways of thinking and behaving. They learn to cope with stress, mental illness and other triggers for relapse, and they work to find purpose and meaning in a life without drugs or alcohol.
If you or someone you love has a substance use disorder, treatment can help. Treatment works for most people who engage with it. Getting help for a substance use disorder can help restore your quality of life, improve your relationships and increase your overall wellbeing.
The sooner you get help for a substance use disorder, the better the outcome and the sooner you can start living the life you want to lead.