Young people are the main victims of substance abuse in the state of Washington. According to federal statistics, those aged 30 and under accounted for about 49 percent of all people seeking substance abuse treatment in Washington in 2015. People aged 35 and under accounted for almost 64 percent of those entering rehab.
So what drugs do young people use, and why do they start using?
Drug addiction is troubling when it happens to people who are in or should be in school. Fortunately, the majority of kids don’t use drugs regularly. In a 2016 survey, 32 percent of high school seniors drank alcohol in the past 30 days, 26 percent used cannabis and 8 percent used other illicit drugs. An estimated 32 percent of seniors used multiple substances.
Polysubstance abuse was associated with lower grades. More 12th-graders who used multiple substances of abuse reported having a C grade or lower than students who didn’t misuse multiple substances.
Drug abuse at any age is dangerous. That’s especially true for young people.
That’s partly because if young people abuse drugs, they damage their brain’s development. Alcohol abuse is, in particular, extremely damaging to brain development of adolescents. It’s also the drug that teenagers use the most.
When teens drink, a significant portion engage in high-risk behavior. About 9 percent of Washington high school seniors reported driving after drinking, and 17 percent rode with someone who had been drinking.
Cannabis was the second-most common substance used by teenagers. The risks of cannabis are often debated. However, there is evidence that heavy cannabis use impairs memory and focus, which are both important in school. Cannabis use impairs cognitive function for up to several days after use. And, contrary to what many believe, cannabis can be addictive.
Some Washington young people abuse more dangerous drugs. About 9 percent of Washington high school seniors report using prescription drugs that weren’t prescribed by a doctor, and 125 Washington teenagers were admitted to substance abuse treatment for heroin in 2015.
Opiates are incredibly addictive and destructive. They cause chemical dependency quickly, and opiate addiction is among the hardest types of substance abuse to treat.
People who suffer from substance abuse in their teens often struggle to break the cycle of addiction. The changes in their brain during adolescence make recovery more difficult.
That’s why Robin Orr died. The Seattle youth started using prescription opiates when he was a teenager, and he continued to abuse them until he died from an overdose at age 24, according to InvestigateWest. Orr tried several times to finish rehab, but his recovery was likely more difficult because he’d started using so young.
Parents and guardians must help kids seek treatment as soon as signs of substance abuse appear.
Washington has suffered from a surge in drug use over the last decade.Read More
Young adults make up the largest group of people with substance abuse problems in Washington: people aged 18-30 accounted for 37 percent of all Washingtonians seeking treatment for substance abuse in 2015.
In particular, young adults have been affected the most by the opiate crisis. People aged 20-35 accounted for the majority of people seeking treatment for heroin addiction in Washington. The age group also accounted for the most treatment admissions for prescription opioid addiction.
People under the age of 35 comprised almost 80 percent of amphetamine addiction treatment admissions, which includes people seeking treatment for crystal meth or prescription stimulants.
Young adults, as a group, are at a high risk for negative consequences from drug abuse. They’re at a point in their lives when they are less likely to have stable employment or a permanent career. Young people make up most of the workers fields with a high rate of substance abuse, such as construction and hospitality.
People in this age range are less likely to have children than people older than 30, and consequently they spend their free time socializing, often with alcohol. Some people addicted to hard drugs explain that a friend introduced them to the drug at a party, and young adults are more likely to binge drink than people older than 30.
Fortunately, young people often have the help of their families when they do need to seek treatment. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, all health insurance plans must cover substance abuse treatment, and people under 26 are eligible to be covered by their parents’ health insurance.
“Most of the folks who come in to see us are under 26, and they’re on their parents’ insurance,” explains Joey Smith, a staff member at the Recovery Village in Ridgefield, Washington. Those who still suffer from substance abuse once they reach age 26 will have a harder time accessing care and might have a harder time finding quality treatment if they don’t have their own health insurance.
Teachers, caseworkers and counselors should absolutely encourage young people to seek treatment if necessary. Parents can make a positive impact on their child’s life by encouraging them to go to treatment on their insurance. After the age 26 cutoff, many people who use drugs struggle to afford treatment.
But Washington does offer publicly funded treatment for some people. The rate of opiate treatment admissions paid for by public funds in the state more than tripled between 2002-2004 and 2013-2015, according to the Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery at Washington State.
The longer a person is addicted to drugs, the harder it is to enter stable, long-term recovery. The sooner a young person can break the cycle of addiction, the better off they’ll be.