Stimulant misuse among young adults in the United States
According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, 16 million (or 6%) of Americans over the age of 12 abuse prescriptions in a year and 2 million (or 12%) of prescription drug abusers are addicted. Perhaps the most concerning aspect of these statistics is just how many of those addicted are young adults. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says that:
“The misuse of prescription pain relievers, tranquilizers, sedatives, and stimulants among youth and young adults aged 12 to 25 is a major public health issue in the United States. The prevalence of prescription drug misuse is highest among young adults between the ages of 18 and 25; over 11 percent report the misuse of prescription drugs in the past year. Similarly, over 4 percent of youth between the ages of 12 and 17 report prescription drug misuse in the past year.”
Why young adults struggle with stimulant misuse
While there are certainly a variety of reasons why young adults misuse stimulants, research indicates two primary reasons they do so: to combat depression (or anxiety) and to perform well academically.
The troublesome rise of stimulant misuse in young adults is no doubt caused by the decline in mental health within this age group. Things like depression and anxiety can trigger stimulant misuse, and young adults may use the drugs to numb problems they are having at home or amongst peers.
“It’s no secret that there is a strong connection between substance use and mental illness,” says Kathleen Smith, PhD, LPC. She goes on to say, “Depression is a mental illness frequently co-occurring with substance use. The relationship between the two disorders is bi-directional, meaning that people who misuse substances are more likely to suffer from depression, and vice versa.”
The pressure to excel academically is the other common cause of stimulant drug misuse. For example, Dr. Jason Kilmer, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences and Assistant Director of Health & Wellness for Alcohol and Other Drug Education in the Division of Student Life at the University of Washington, did some research and discovered that,
“Students who reported using prescription stimulant medication without a prescription or in a way other than prescribed by a medical professional identified a variety of reasons for doing so. The most common reported motives were related to academics:
– To concentrate better while studying (54%)
– To be able to study longer (53%)
– To feel less restless while studying (35%)
– Because it helps increase alertness (29%)
– To concentrate better in class (19%)
– To keep better track of assignments (14%)
– To feel less restless in class (11%).”
Prevention of stimulant misuse in young adults
If we look at the research, we can see that if we want to prevent stimulant misuse in young adults, we have to address the depression, anxiety, and academic pressures young adults struggle with today. Young adults who are mentally well don’t feel the need to use stimulants to help them cope.
Unfortunately, much of young adults’ depression stems from broken family situations (that are usually preventable). If families saw the importance of staying together and churches and communities promoted and fostered healthy relationships, we would undoubtedly see a decline in the misuse of stimulant drugs in our young adults.
Additionally, schools ought to take a proactive instead of a reactive approach to stimulant misuse similar to the program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. They required students to undergo counseling and receive help with time management, studying, sleep, etc. before the counseling service would give them medication for ADHD. Ultimately, the goal should be for young adults to see medication as a last resort to their academic struggles.
If we want to see young adults stop abusing stimulants, we as the older generations ought to model the pursuit of mental and physical wellness so that young adults can see it doesn’t take stimulants to find joy, satisfaction, and success in life.