Millennial’s Drug(s) Of Choice


From bootlegging in the 1920s as a response to prohibition to the federal government declaring the war on drugs in the 1970s, substance abuse has always been widespread in modern American life. How has growing up in this environment affected the way that the next generation of leaders are consuming drugs as young adults? What does millennial substance abuse look like? Known as millennials, they are defined as anyone born between 1982 and 2004. A millennial can be anyone from a middle school student to someone in his or her mid-30s, meaning that the millennial drug of choice is still being chosen. Just as different drugs have become popular at different times, eventually declining in use due to changes in technology, society, or government regulation, different generations have had different substances of choice. As for the generation that’s a few years from entirely reaching adulthood, how has this framework of conspicuous drug use shaped their habits with today’s legal and illegal substances?

Drug Abuse in Context

Before we get into the harder stuff, marijuana is the most widely-used illicit drug in the United States and the rest of the world. Despite recreational use of marijuana having been legalized in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, and most recently in California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts, as well as medical use being legal in 20 additional states, marijuana remains illegal at the federal level. With 57 percent of Americans in favor of full legalization and over half of the country admitting that they have tried marijuana at least once as of 2016, it appears to be just a matter of time until marijuana joins the rest of the legal drugs that are regulated by the government.[1]

Graphic showing that 57 percent of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana.

Graphic showing that 86.4 percent of U.S. adults have consumed alcohol at some point.

Speaking of regulation, alcohol is the most prevalently used and abused drug in the world as it is legal in most countries. The same is true in the United States across multiple generations. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 86.4 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at one point in their lives with 70.1 percent reporting that they imbibed in the last year. Binge or heavy drinking is also a problem in many parts of the world, particularly in the United States. 15.1 million American adults as of 2015, 9.8 million men and 5.3 million women, had been diagnosed with an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), meaning that they were either unwilling or unable to properly control their alcohol usage.[2]

Regular alcohol or drug use in a household quickly desensitizes any child or adolescent growing up in that household to any drug use that they might come across outside of the house. With both alcohol and marijuana usage at all-time highs among American adults and marijuana not being legal in most states, the perception of how acceptable and dangerous illegal drug use can be has changed.

Millennial Substance Abuse

Graphic highlighting the prevalence of non-medical use of prescription painkillers in the U.S. Despite heavy alcohol and marijuana use taking place across multiple generations, prescription opioids are the drugs of choice for millennials. Along with the use of painkilling opioids becoming more common, trends of abuse and addiction are growing along with the risk of prescription opioid overdose.[3] Approximately 21.5 million Americans, 12 years or older, have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder, with 1.9 million of them involved with prescription painkillers.[4] Research has shown that approximately 4.3 million people, 12 years or older, and 2.9 million adults, 26 years or older, have used pain pills for non-medical purposes.[5]

A study conducted by the Mayo Clinic has shown that almost 70 percent of Americans take at least one prescription drug while more than half of the country’s adults take two or more prescriptions. The top categories of prescribed drugs in the United States are opioids, depressants, and stimulants. 20 percent of American prescription patients were found to be on five or more concurrent medications while 13 percent of the participants reported having at least one active opioid prescription.[6] In 2015, the total number of individual prescription medications filled at pharmacies was just over 4 billion.[7] That’s nearly 13 prescriptions for every man, woman, and child in the United States according to the 2015 census.

Prescription Pills are Gateway Drugs

While college is a distant memory to many millennials, the youngest of the generation are still a few years away from experiencing higher education. In line with the exploratory environment that college embodies, recreational prescription pill use is expected to increase by the time that the last millennials are choosing their majors. With energy in short supply and an excess of stress during the semester, it would be surprising if students didn’t flock to prescription drugs. Stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin are used to help keep on task in class, stay up all night studying, and lose weight. Depressants such as Xanax and Valium are taken to combat anxiety, reduce nervousness in social situations or to simply escape reality.

Whether or not millennials prefer the illicit substances more commonly used by previous generations, prescription drugs are much more available and seen as the far safer option. After all, they are given out to patients by doctors who are trusted, authority figures. However, there is often little difference in safety between abusing a prescription drug and abusing a comparable illicit substance. Those who take prescription medication for non-medical purposes are five times more likely to develop a substance abuse problem at some point in their lives.[8]

“Those who take prescription medication for non-medical purposes are five times more likely to develop a substance abuse problem.”

Some of the more commonly abused prescription opioids are:

  • Codeine: Prescribed to treat mild pain, sometimes for coughs and severe diarrhea
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin, etc.): Prescribed for pain in general, associated with pain from injuries of a physical or dental nature
  • Morphine: Given to patients experiencing severe pain following surgeries
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet, etc.): Used for moderate to severe pain over a long-term period

If you or someone you know has lost control of a prescription pill or illicit drug use habit, help is available. Millions of adults in the United States regularly take part in some sort of prescription medication abuse, and overdoses are more frequent than ever. Unity Behavioral Health can help you find your way back to a life before substance abuse. We are a comprehensive recovery center located in scenic North Palm Beach, FL, specializing in the treatment of drug and alcohol dependence, mental illness, and dual diagnosis. Please give us a call today at 561-708-5295 to learn more.

  1. http://www.pewresearch.org/daily-number/marijuana-use-increased-over-the-last-decade/
  2. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
  3. http://drugabuse.com/featured/drug-and-alcohol-abuse-across-generations/
  4. http://www.asam.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/opioid-addiction-disease-facts-figures.pdf
  5. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FRR1-2014/NSDUH-FRR1-2014.pdf
  6. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/study-shows-70-percent-of-americans-take-prescription-drugs/
  7. http://kff.org/other/state-indicator/total-retail-rx-drugs/?currentTimeframe
  8. http://millennialmagazine.com/generation-rx-eats-prescription-drugs-like-candy/