Signs of Drug Use in Young Adults
Drug use is prominent across different age ranges of young adults. When drug use starts to interfere with daily activities, then the condition becomes a substance use disorder. Examples of substances linked to substance use include cocaine, heroin, marijuana, methamphetamines, inhalants, and anabolic steroids.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),1 over seventy thousand individuals in the United States lost their lives due to overdose in 2017. Adolescents may have some of the most prevalent rates of substance use according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
According to a study on the trends of drug use in adolescents, 81.4% of the older adolescents reported having the chance to use drugs. The research also shows that the median age at the start of drug abuse was 14 years with dependence and 15 years without dependence.2
How Drug Use in Young Adults Affects the Developing Brain
Drug use has both physical and mental negative effects on young adults. The human brain is a complex organ, and substance use influences how it functions. Note that the brain regulates the overall function of the body, especially for interpreting and responding to signals.
In teenagers, substance use can affect the brain in two significant ways: brain development and memory.
According to research, it’s evident that the brain is in its development process during young adulthood or adolescence. The brain creates different connections between the brain cells before adolescence.3 Between the ages of 11 and 12, the brain starts to prune back several of those connections. The pruning process clears unused wiring for faster and efficient information processing.
Young adults can experience a substantial volume change in the gray and white matter parts of the brain. There are various non-linear developments of neural systems in the body of teens. Due to these imbalances in the brain, it is extremely risky for young individuals to participate in substance use.4
Substance use also plays a role in memory loss or lack of concentration in young adults. The medical condition associated with loss of memory is called amnesia, but it’s not a common experience for young individuals. Common drugs that may result in memory problems include anti-anxiety drugs, alcohol, and opioids. Substance use is not a prominent cause of memory loss, but it may play a role.
Risk Factors for Drug Use in Young Adults
Various factors may increase the chances of young adults engaging in substance abuse. Generally, these risk factors deal with the social aspects of adolescents. Here are some of the significant risk factors of substance use:
- Peer Pressure: Peer pressure defines the method by which individuals of the same social group can influence one another. In most cases, peer pressure defines negative influences from other teens. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, peer pressure overrides the fear of taking risks. For this reason, an adolescent may engage in substance use to influence their peers.5
- Stress: Chronic stress is one of the major risk factors of substance use in teenagers. Different substances serve as a coping mechanism for stress in adolescents, including those due to physical, emotional, or mental stressors. Common stressors include conflicts with loved ones, death of a loved one, illness, legal problems, and moving home, or changing jobs.
- Depression and Anxiety: One of the major causes of substance use in teenagers is depression and anxiety. Social anxiety disorder describes a condition where individuals feel nervous or self-conscious in public or social scenarios. Both substance use disorders and anxiety are the most frequent problems in the United States with lifetime rates of 14.6% and 28.8%.6
- Trauma: Childhood traumatic experiences or trauma during adolescence plays a role in substance use. Examples of traumatic experiences include physical assault, sexual assault, rape, domestic violence, emotional or verbal abuse, and natural disasters.7 Teens react to trauma differently, depending on their personalities and environment. Common responses to trauma include nightmares, difficulty concentrating, irritability, anger, anxiety, denial, and depression.
- Family Circumstances: Family circumstances, like the divorce of parents, can make adolescents start abusing substances. If a parent engages in substance use, it may also result in substance use by their child during adolescence or young adulthood. Unemployment is also an example of a family circumstance that causes substance use.
Video: Teen Health: Substance Use and Abuse
Diagnosing Drug Use in Young Adults
Diagnosing substance use requires proper evaluation and a review of the individual’s medical condition. During diagnoses, the psychiatrist reviews many factors before concluding a disorder. Note that licensed drug counselors also help in diagnosing substance use in young adults.
For diagnosing substance use in adolescents, most mental health experts use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The first step in diagnosis depends on the person, a friend, or a family member admitting the need for treatment and recovery.
After acknowledging the need for treatment, the mental health professional will ask questions relating to the frequency of use, impairment of daily activities, and pattern of use for social, educational, and occupational areas. According to the DSM-5, substance use is divided into different categories, which include:
- Sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic-related
- Other substance-related
For a young adult to receive a diagnosis for substance use, he or she should display two of the following criteria with a year (12 months):
- More use of the drug due to increased tolerance
- Longer time using a substance for a specific effect
- Withdrawal symptoms when individual stops using
- Physical or psychological conditions due to use
- Unsuccessful attempts to stop using
- Neglected responsibilities resulting from substance use
- Hazardous use of the drug
- Usage of more amounts or extended use
- Social problems connected to using
- Constant cravings
- Quitting some activities due to use
The number of criteria an individual displays determines the severity of substance use and dependence. An individual with four or five of the criteria has a moderate substance use disorder, while individuals with six or more have a severe addiction.
Signs of Young Adults Using Drugs
There are various warning signs and symptoms that indicate substance use in young adults. Most of the symptoms of substance use in teenagers relate to their behavioral reactions. Some individuals may also have physical symptoms that signify substance use.
The physical signs of substance use are related to factors that affect the body system. All of these signs are visible and demand immediate or early medical care. Here are the significant physical signs of substance use in teens:
- Frequent illness
- Slurred speech
- Runny nose or nosebleeds
- Sores or spots around the mouth
- Sudden loss of weight
- Skin bruises
- Constant perspiration
- Seizures and vomiting
The behavioral signs of substance use are also visible, but they don’t have a direct influence on the individual’s health. Most of the behavioral signs affect the adolescent’s social life, including relationships with friends and family. Here are the different behavioral signs of substance use in teenagers:
- Bad relationship with family and friends
- Loss of interest in secondary school
- Avoidance of eye contact
- Lack of coordination or poor balance
- Cutting ties with people
Most young individuals may have both visible physical and behavioral signs. If any physical or behavioral sign is evident, endeavor to consult a mental health professional for help.
Consequences of Drug Use for Young Adults
Drug use influences teens in different areas of life. The consequences of substance use may be physical issues like lung disease, memory problems, heart conditions, and seizures. Behavioral problems and social challenges are also major consequences of substance abuse. Further consequences include issues with:
- Health: Various health conditions result from substance use. Examples of these conditions include cardiovascular diseases, cancers, gastrointestinal effects, neurological effects, hepatitis, and musculoskeletal disorders. Smoking cigarettes is connected to cancer of the mouth, stomach, and lungs. Injecting substances may also result in cardiovascular conditions like collapsed veins and bacterial infection in the heart valves or blood vessels. Substance use may also cause nausea, vomiting, and euphoric effects in the brain.
- School: Substance use results in an impairment of cognitive development, which reduces academic performance. Studies show that heavy substance use leads to problems relating to memory and concentration. Both memory and concentration problems will lead to poor performance in secondary school, which increases the risk of dropping out.8
- Career: In a young adult’s career, substance use causes a reduction in the overall quality of work. Lack of sleep due to substance use affects productivity and work performance, which reduces work quality. Drugs can have negative effects on a person’s sleep cycle, which makes it impossible for the body to achieve the appropriate REM (Rapid Eye Movement).
- Financial: Constant use of drugs may eat into an adolescent’s finances. Drugs cost money, so spending significant income on them is inevitable. Substance use also affects adolescents’ finances due to the neglect of responsibilities. Examples include mismanagement of a position in a specific company.
Video: Teen Brain Development
How to Handle Your Child’s Drug Use
Discovering your child uses substances may be disheartening, but it’s imperative to take the appropriate steps. Confronting the issue of your child’s use requires an understanding of the situation. It’s advisable to plan out discussion points to better tackle the issue.
As a parent or guardian, it’s your responsibility to understand the structure of the brain and the way it develops. Note that the brain does not fully develop until the mid-20s, meaning that consistent substance use can cause significant damages to the brain cells in the long term.
Here are the advisable strategies to handle your child’s substance use:
- Educate Yourself: There is a lot to learn about substance use and how it affects your child. You should consider learning more about the type of drug your child uses. Common examples of substances include heroin, methamphetamines, anabolic steroids, and marijuana. According to certain studies, marijuana use can lead to functional impairment in cognitive abilities. It’s imperative to note that the degree and duration of the physical impairment are dependent on the age of the adolescent and the period of use.9
- Talk to Your Child: When you discover that your child is using, it’s imperative to speak to him or her calmly. Try understanding the reason behind substance use to provide help. It is advisable to set clear limits about the behavior and combine positive reinforcement with the right consequences. If your child is using substances like an opioid, ensure that you speak about the consequences of the drug. Note that opioid is a substance with painful withdrawal symptoms that may last for five to six days. Talking to your child about the consequences of the substances may be helpful.
After educating yourself and talking to your child, you may need to reach out to a licensed mental health professional for help.
Preventing Drug Use in Young Adults
Preventing substance use in teenagers requires a direct and intentional approach from parents and schools. It is essential to act early because drugs affect brain chemistry, which may lead to addiction and other severe medical conditions.
Here are some of the steps that parents and schools can take for preventing substance use in teens:
As a parent, preventing substance use in your young adult or adolescent children is essential. You need to have an effective and intelligent conversation with your child for beneficial results.
- Ask for your child’s views: The purpose of asking for your teen’s views is to discover his or her mind about the subject. Ensure that your child is honest about their opinion.
- Speak about the reasons to avoid substance use: Avoid scaring your teenager, but you should speak about the consequences and dangers of substance use.
- Use media messages: Pictures, television programs, movies, songs, and social media are good methods for passing information. Use these techniques to show your teen the consequences and reasons why substance use is inadvisable.
- Talk about methods to resist peer pressure: Your child may face peer pressure often. For this reason, it’s essential to brainstorm with him or her on ways to turn down offers of substances.
Endeavor to discuss your substance use and experience as a parent. If you decided not to use drugs, discuss with your child the reasons for that decision. Be open enough for your adolescent to understand the reasons to avoid substance use.
A secondary school or post-secondary school can also play an essential role in preventing substance use in young adults. Here are some steps that may help in stopping substance use in teenagers:
- Know the activities of children in secondary school
- Establish rules, regulations, and consequences
- Monitor the activities of teenagers
- Provide a support system for students in secondary or post-secondary school
- Create enlightenment programs for children
Overall, effective education in a secondary school or any other academic environment is the most important aspect for preventing substance use in teenagers. An educational knowledge of substances’ negative effects may help curb the use.
How Virtual Schools Affect Drug Use
A virtual school is an online school that educates students outside of a conventional school. Due to the restrictions that a virtual school has, monitoring students is challenging. For this reason, parents may need to perform a significant level of monitoring to prevent substance use.
According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, learning in a virtual school may present a higher risk of child and parental mental and emotional health conditions. Note that a virtual school is typically a post-secondary school.10
Video: Talking to Teens about Drugs: Found in Reverse Translation?
Addiction Treatment Focused on Young Adults
Various addiction treatment processes help teenagers recover from substance use. For better comprehension, here are the different addiction treatment techniques to follow:
- Education and Vocational Support: Educating young adults about the effects of substance use may be efficient. The educational approach should include teaching resources and strategies. Proper planning of educational and vocational support programs is also helpful in addiction treatment.
- Peer Support Network: Peer support involves giving and receiving nonclinical assistance from teens with the same experience. According to research, the benefits of a support network relate to treatment engagement, human immunodeficiency or hepatitis C virus risk behaviors, and secondary drug-related behaviors like craving.11
- Sober Living Programs: Sober living programs are only suitable for adolescents transitioning from intensive addiction treatment to independent living without medical attention. A teen in a sober living home (SLH) typically practices autonomy, while the supervising staff or peers ensure that they are accountable.
- Therapies: Mental health professionals use different therapies to treat substance use or addiction. The behavioral treatment includes multidimensional family therapy, motivational incentives, and cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Substance use in young adults or teenagers can appear as a serious problem to parents, friends, and colleagues. An appropriate approach to educating and treating substance use in these teenagers is essential. For this reason, it’s imperative to consult a mental health professional when you observe any signs of substance use.