Addiction in Young Adults


Addiction is a chronic disease, like diabetes or heart disease, meaning there is no cure. But addiction can be managed, and people with addiction can — and do — recover.

During National Addiction Treatment Week on Friday, October 25 from Noon to 1:00 pm ET, visit ASAM’s Facebook page for a rebroadcast of A Parent and Patient Perspective: An Evening with the Sheffs. Hear first-hand from father and son, David and Nic Sheff, about their personal journey of addiction and recovery, which provides hope to many across the country today.


What is addiction?

Addiction is a chronic brain disease characterized by changes in the brain circuits related to reward, stress and self-control. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.


Hope and treatments for young adults are available. 

In the United States, 1 in 27 (916,000) adolescents ages 12 to 17 have a substance use disorder.1 While young adults and their loved ones find this journey challenging, there are evidence-based, research-validated addiction treatments that offer improved chances for remission and recovery.

How does addiction affect young adults?

Addiction in young adults may be more common than you think. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH):

  • 99,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 smoke cigarettes every day
  • 108,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 have opioid use disorder
  • 401,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 have alcohol use disorder
  • 681,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 have illicit drug use disorder

Initiation of alcohol and substance use can happen during middle school or earlier, increasing chances of developing alcohol and substance use disorders later in life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15% of Americans report drinking alcohol before age 13 and close to 7% report trying marijuana before age 13.


How to spot substance use and addiction in young adults.

Substance use in young adults needs to be identified and addressed as soon as possible. If your child begins behaving differently for no apparent reason, such as feeling tired or depressed or acting withdrawn or out of the moment, it could be a sign that they are developing a substance use or addiction problem.

Other symptoms include:

  • Change in peer group
  • Decline in academic performance
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Changes in or neglect of appearance and grooming habits
  • Hostile behavior toward and deteriorating relationships with family members and friends

These are just a few signs of substance use that parents should be looking for in their children. Parents and others may overlook such signs, believing them to be a normal part of puberty. It is not. Do not underestimate the risks or seriousness of drug use.


Addiction is treatable.

“I treat addiction because it allows me to see miracles unfold every day. There is nothing better than helping another human being recover from the disease of addiction.” — Christina Delos Reyes, MD, FASAM, Psychiatrist, ASAM member

Like other chronic diseases, addiction is treatable. Seeking help is an important first step in recovery, but it is critical that individuals receive the proper type of treatment.

ASAM strongly encourages patients and their families to seek out high-quality treatment that is based on clinical outcomes, evidence and research.


Trustworthy Resources and Advice

Studies clearly show that adults simply warning children about the dangers of drugs does not help prevent early substance use and can actually backfire. Instead, we should advocate strongly for evidence-based programs in our schools, like resiliency skill training and other proven community-based strategies. Additionally, adults can help children avoid substance use by teaching and modeling healthy behaviors and ways to increase resilience and manage stress.

We also can help youth stay away from drugs by cleaning out our medicine cabinets and safely disposing of all unneeded medications; locking up controlled substances, such as medications for pain, sleep, anxiety or weight loss; and minimizing their access to alcohol, nicotine and cannabis. Signs of drug use are like those of many psychiatric conditions, but signs of intoxication, like slurred speech and sedation, are more specific to drug use.

The following are helpful resources for information about addiction, proper treatment options and hopeful, caring communities: