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Brain Development
May 2, 2016

Millennial Drug Use – Key Data and Statistics

Brain Development“The Millennial generation,” also known as “Generation Y,” refers to a large and very influential demographic in America: 40 percent of all adults over the age of 21 (roughly two out of five Americans) belong to this younger cohort, which includes anyone who reached adulthood around the year 2000; and just this year, Millennials overtook Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation, according to a report by Pew Research Center.

The Millennial generation is distinguishing itself on the basis of some key characteristics, from political preferences — Millennials were the backbone of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, for example — to views of organized religion. (Millennials are far more likely than earlier generations to self-identify as “spiritual but not religious.”)

Social habits, drug and alcohol use included, are another area where Millennials are charting their own course. The following statistical data offers a window onto some of the key substance abuse trends that describe today’s Millennials.

Alcohol, Marijuana and Prescription Painkillers – Highest Rates of Millennial Drug Abuse

In a quick analysis of the drugs that Millennials are more likely to abuse, alcohol and marijuana seem to win out: one in two of today’s teens reportedly drank alcohol in the last year; one in two teens also reportedly abused the drug marijuana.

Next in line for likelihood of abuse are prescription painkillers, with one in five of today’s teens admitting to having non-medically used prescription painkillers.

The same report found another one in six teens has abused inhalants, and one in eight has abused ecstasy.

Millennial Rates of Drug and Alcohol Addiction and Treatment

In the year 2005, the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) concluded that 19 percent of college students ages 18-24 met the criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence. A mere 5 percent of these students actually sought out treatment, according to the same study. An even smaller sliver (just 3 percent) recognized a need for professional help but did not pursue treatment.

More recent findings suggest a similar gap remains between the number of Millennials who need substance abuse treatment and those who actually end up getting professional help. Some 90 percent of young people between the ages of 12 and 29 don’t get treatment for a recognized drug or alcohol problem, according to a 2014 report by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

The Risks to Millennials of Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Drug or alcohol abuse poses some unique health dangers to Millennials. One of the biggest risks of abusing drugs or alcohol at a young age is brain-related. Studies have shown that the adolescent brain does not fully develop until the ages of 22 to 24, and that the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which governs high-level cognition, decision-making skills and interpersonal social behaviors, is the last region of the brain to fully develop. That makes young people more susceptible to potentially more severe and longer lasting brain damage from drug or alcohol abuse.

One Effective Drug Prevention Strategy

One simple but effective way to prevent millennial drug abuse is for parents to talk to their kids about the risks of doing drugs. One study found that teens whose parents have warned them about the dangers of drugs are up to 50 percent less likely to experiment with drugs.