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A Day in the Life of Young Adults: Some Sobering Facts

July 04, 2014  |  Falmouth Enterprise

Dr. Michael Bihari

Substance abuse is a serious health problem among young adults aged 18 to 25. There are an estimated 35.6 million young adults aged 18 to 25 in the United States. 

Last month the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, published a report “A Day in the Life of Young Adults: Substance Use Facts. SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.

The report includes a compilation of several national data bases that have information on the drinking and drug abuse behavior of Americans, most notably the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).  

The survey (NSDUH), which began in 1971 and is currently conducted on an annual basis, gathers national and state-level information on the use of tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs (including non-medical use of prescription drugs) and related mental health issues in the United States. Each year approximately 70,000 individuals, age 12 and older, are randomly selected from all over the United States and asked to participate in the survey.

The following facts are from the “A Day in the Life…” report:

First Time Substance Use

According to information from the most recent (2011/2012) NSDUH survey, 5.7 percent of young adults aged drank alcohol for the first time in the past year (9.0 percent of young adults aged 18 to 20 and 3.6 percent of young adults aged 21 to 25). And, 3.3 percent of young adults used of an illicit drug for the first time during the past year. 

On an average day during the past year, the following numbers of young adults used these substances for the first time.

  • 4,724 drank alcohol
  • 2,470 used marijuana
  • 1,754 abused a prescription pain medication (such as Percocet and Vicodin)
  • 1,561used hallucinogens (such as LSD and mescaline) 
  • 1,200 used cocaine
  • 850 abused  prescription stimulants (such as Adderall and Ritalin) 
  • 566 used inhalants (such as glue sniffing)
  • 258 used heroin
  • 174 used methamphetamine.

Alcohol and Illicit Drug Use

According to the NSDUH survey results, nearly 27 million young adults drank alcohol and about 12 million used an illicit drug in the past year.

In addition, on an average day during the past year, the following numbers of young adults used these substances.

  • 4.8 million drank alcohol
  • 3.2 million used marijuana
  • 57,304 used heroin
  • 51,319 used cocaine
  • 46,179 used hallucinogens
  • 17,868 used inhalants.

Of concern are the alcohol drinking patterns of young adults; those who used alcohol drank on an average of 7.0 days per month and consumed an average of 4.1 drinks per day on the days they drank. And, more than one third of young adults reported binge drinking of alcohol in the past month

Substance Abuse Treatment

In 2011 there were more than 400,000 admissions of young adults to substance abuse treatment programs. On an average day in 2011, young adults admitted for treatment reported the following substances as the primary substances of abuse:

  • 364 for heroin or other opiates (narcotic pain killers)
  • 308 for marijuana
  • 289 for alcoho
  • 65 for stimulants
  • 36 for cocaine
  • 32 for other drugs.

Emergency Department Visits

In 2011 there were about 845,000 drug-related emergency room visits by young adults involving the use of illicit drugs, alcohol in combination with other substances, or intentional misuse or abuse of prescription medications and over-the-counter remedies.

  • On an average day in 2011, these substances were the reason for an emergency department visit:
  • 339 alcohol in combination with other drugs 
  • 422 marijuana
  • 366 for prescription or non prescription pain relievers
  • 228 for benzodiazepines (tranquilizers, such as valium and Xanax)
  • 201 for heroin
  • 179 for cocaine
  • 114 for stimulant abuse;
  • 99 for MDMA(Ecstasy and Molly) and LSD and other hallucinogens
  • 82 for misuse of antidepressant or antipsychotic medication.

Needless to say, drinking and drug abuse is a serious problem in this country!

Over the past six years, the Partnership has focused on the preteen and high school population in Falmouth, all of whom have become or soon will become young adults in college or the work force. As parents, your responsibility to provide support and nurturing does not end with graduation from high school. You still are and will remain a very strong influence on how your kids view alcohol and drug use.

If you have a teen who is preparing to go to college in the fall or a student who is home for the summer, it is important that you know about the drinking and drug culture on their campus. The next several Risky Business columns will outline some of the things you can do to prepare your teen (and yourself) for the college experience. 

Recommended Resources:

A Day in the Life of Young Adults

National Survey on Drug Use and Health 

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