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Drug abuse by young adults in the USA is higher than anywhere else in the world. In 2012, approximately one third of young adults ages 18-25 admitted to binge drinking in the past month, and one fifth reported using an illicit drug within the last month.
A National Institute on Drug Abuse study found that 20 percent of eighth graders, 36 percent of tenth graders and nearly 47 percent of twelfth graders had used an illicit drug and that more than five million high school students binge drink at least once a month.
While overall drug use in the USA has decreased, prescription drug abuse continues to rise. The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that nearly 52 percent of twelfth graders have abused prescription medication they received from a friend or family member; this finding indicates that by the time a young adult graduates from high school, at least half their class has used an illicit substance.
As with many adolescents, Anna’s first experience with alcohol and drugs was casual but her use quickly escalated.
“I’d tried smoking pot and drinking here and there, but the first time I really drank was at a party in freshman year of high school. I got so drunk that I was sent home. I am what I know now as a binge drinker. I would go days without drinking, but when I did drink, most times I would get out of control.”
How they got started
Young adults are more susceptible to addiction than ever before. Many illicit substances such as alcohol and prescription medication are far more easily accessible than previously, and possession of these substances is also more socially acceptable. Many teens and young adults who begin experimenting with illicit substances don’t intend to develop an addiction, but experimentation can quickly lead users down a dangerous road.
Whether it starts as a method of coping with stress, a way of relieving social anxiety and relating to others, or as a method of building muscle, losing weight or focusing on responsibilities, substance abuse can easily become a destructive problem.
Many young adults end up in unsafe situations as a result of their addictive behaviors. For Josh, his addiction led him away from his family and into a lifestyle of homelessness and incarceration:
“It got to the point that I was living in my car in the winter in Seattle, Washington, and it was snowing. It even got to the point that I was arrested and spent time in jail on multiple felony charges.”
While there are a number of ways to combat the influences that lead to addiction, if addiction does develop it’s important to be supportive throughout the recovery process and on the long road to sobriety.
Why they started
In the cases of these two young adults, their lack of understanding combined with their desire to fit in played a significant role in early experimentation. For 24-year-old Josh, hanging out with friends who were smoking pot at the age of 14 was the catalyst and, with a tenuous grasp on the dangers of drugs, curiosity lead to experimentation. For 25-year-old Anna, the desire to fit in contributed to her alcohol abuse.
Both motivators shared by these two young adults are common; lack of knowledge surrounding drugs or the influence of peers are the two greatest influences in teen drug abuse.
Anna and Josh quickly spiraled into dangerous lifestyles of escalating substance abuse, reckless behavior and broken relationships. As is all too common in drug abuse, Josh began stealing from his family to support his methamphetamine and crack cocaine addiction.
“It got to the point where I would do anything I had to do to get more drugs. I stole stuff from my parents like my mom’s jewelry or my dad’s power tools. I would rob houses or sell drugs.”
Both Anna and Josh were arrested on more than one occasion for either drug use or reckless behavior while under the influence, and both suffered numerous health consequences including hospitalizations.
How they recovered
Abstaining from substance abuse is a major obstacle to overcome in recovery, but long-term sobriety is a lifelong commitment. Many begin the journey to recovery in a detox program where they withdraw from drugs and alcohol while under medical supervision. Detox can be a painful and sometimes dangerous process in which the body adjusts to the absence of drugs and alcohol in its system. Once an individual is free from the influence of drugs, they can then engage with a treatment plan that best suits their needs.
Depending on the nature of addiction, some people opt for long-term residential treatment which is the most effective method of tackling addiction. For people like Josh, the road to recovery is not without bumps and even with safeguards in place, it’s not uncommon for people to experience at least one relapse. For those who do relapse, don’t treat it as failure: in Josh’s case, after experiencing relapse he could finally ask his mother for help and “she looked into finding a longer term, better rehab.”
How they stay sober
Overcoming addiction is a life-long process. Both Josh and Anna have maintained sobriety for long periods of time; Josh has been sober for two years and Anna for five years. Both have reunited with their loved ones, have found successful employment and have re-enrolled in school, and both also have new friendships with other sober individuals and goals and aspirations they work towards every day. While the path is not always easy, there are constant reminders of their successes and positive growth in daily life.
For Josh, overcoming addiction starts with admitting there is a problem:
“If there is a problem, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Overcoming that fear will be a huge step in trying to get off drugs or alcohol.” His advice may seem obvious but for many, it’s the hardest to come to terms with. “Admitting that there is a problem will enable you to start the process of overcoming that problem.”
Anna elaborates on Josh’s point:
“Remember that you are not alone. There are thousands of other young people just like me who truly understand the pain I was in, experienced it themselves and have come out on the other side.”
One critical component of the recovery process is building a sober support network. In recovery, young adults will meet similarly-aged peers who can relate to their feelings and experiences. When surrounded by individuals you can relate to, the recovery process is far less isolating and much easier to manage. Without a strong support network, maintaining sobriety can be a difficult feat.
Sobriety is best maintained, then, by setting healthy boundaries and establishing supportive relationships with other sober individuals. Achieving sobriety can be a long journey filled with both hurdles and rewards, and in spite of the obstacles there are countless successes that can be experienced too. As Anna summed up in her advice to other young people struggling with addiction: “If you can see that drugs and alcohol are causing problems in your life but don’t see a way out, ask for help, be honest and you can have a life beyond your wildest dreams”.
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