How Do Young Adults Get Addicted to Drugs and Alcohol?  

There are a variety of factors that can lead a young adult to become addicted to drugs and alcohol. Some are raised in situations where substance use is a part of their daily lives or in families with a history of drug or alcohol addiction. Others are exposed to drugs and alcohol socially. The use starts out as innocent experimentation or “partying” but can soon increase in intensity and frequency until there is a problem.

Young Adult Alcoholism

Young adult alcoholism can begin as early as middle school but is commonly developed in high school or college. Peer pressure is a big factor here as partying is seen by many as a rite of passage and normal behavior. As these are young adults, their brains are not fully developed yet, specifically the frontal lobe. This is the part of the brain associated with logic and good decision-making. This makes these age demographics more susceptible to not only pressure to begin drinking but to the behaviors associated with problematic drinking, alcohol use disorder, and alcoholism.


National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics on young adult drinking (NCDAS):


  • 11.72 million 18- to 25-year-olds report binge drinking in the last month.
  • 7.10 million 12- to 20-year-olds report drinking in the last month.
  • Among them, 60.2% reported binge drinking during that period.


Young Adult Drug Use


Young adult drug use is on the rise in the U.S. with children as young as 12. Typically they are introduced to drug use at home or via their social circle. It almost always starts out as experimentation. For some, experimentation is as far as it ever gets. But for others, experimentation is only the beginning. As mentioned above, in this age range, the frontal lobe is not fully developed. This makes this demographic much more susceptible to forming habits with behaviors that “feel good” and also makes it much more likely the individual will ignore dangers or potential consequences associated with the “feel good” behavior. This combined with the addictive nature of certain substances can lead to addiction developing very early in life.


 NCDAS statistics on young adult drug use:


  • 11.89 million 18- to 25-year-olds used drugs in the last month.
  • 4,777 Americans aged 15 to 24 years old died of an overdose of illicit drugs in one year.
  • 11.2% of overdose deaths are aged 15 to 24 years.


Young Adult Opioid Use


Young adult opioid use has skyrocketed in recent years. Many young adults are introduced to opioids after an accident or injury sustained in sports or some extracurricular activity. For other young adults, they are introduced to opioids through social means or at home. It is not uncommon for young adults to use and abuse unused medications found in their home, or leftover medications from a family member’s prescription. Again, this population is extremely susceptible to dependency and addiction, and with a substance as addictive and habit-forming as opioids, drug addiction can develop within weeks or months in some cases.


NCDAS statistics on young adult opioid use:


  • Overdose deaths due to opioids have increased by 500% among 15- to 24-year-olds since 1999.
  • In the 21st Century, opioid-related OD deaths among this age group increased by as much as 30.7% annually.
  • High school students who legitimately use prescription opioids are 33% more likely to misuse opioids after high school.


Do Young Adults Need Rehab for Addiction?


In many cases, yes. Young adults struggling with drug or alcohol addiction will typically need some form of substance use disorder treatment. There are various levels of care available depending on the specifics of the situation. Some pertinent factors in determining level of care are: the substance being used, frequency of use, history of use, environmental factors, and co-occurring mental health issues. The typical levels of care for substance use disorder are as follows: Detox (Medically Managed Withdrawal), Inpatient, partial care, intensive outpatient, or general outpatient.

For more information on levels of care, check out some of our other recent blogs:


Partial Care

Intensive Outpatient


Here are Harbor Wellness and Recovery Center, we offer various levels of care to treat young adults with alcohol addiction and or drug addiction. We also treat individuals with co-occurring mental health conditions. If you or a young adult in your life is struggling with substance use disorder, alcohol addiction, and or drug addiction- we can help. We are available 24/7/365 and offer no-cost and totally confidential consultations to discuss options for helping you or your loved one. Call us at 732-847-4555 or email us at to start the journey to recovery today.