Alcohol and Drug Abuse Among for Young Adults

2 min read · 3 sections

Substance Abuse Among Young Adults

Although drug use trends and rates vary from year to year, recent data shows that substance abuse remains a persistent and pressing problem for many young adults. In 2018, there were an estimated 34.1 million young adults (age 18 to 25) in the United States. According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than one third of these young adults reported binge drinking (having 5 or more alcoholic drinks in a row) in the past month and about 2 in 5 young adults used an illicit drug in the past year.1

Other results indicating addiction rates among young adults include:1 

  • 1 in 11 young adults is a heavy drinker (binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past 30 days).
  • 1 in 10 young adults has an alcohol use disorder.
  • 1 in 7 young adults has a substance use disorder.
  • 1 in 13 young adults has an illicit drug use disorder.
  • 1 in 17 young adults has a marijuana use disorder.
  • 1 in 100 young adults has an opioid use disorder.

Alcohol and marijuana are by far the most commonly abused substances among young adults, but the use of many other drugs has been reported by individuals within this age group. 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that young adults are the biggest abusers of prescription opioid pain relievers, ADHD stimulants, and anti-anxiety drugs.2 And according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in the past year:1 

  • Approximately 1 in 14 young adults used hallucinogens. 
  • Approximately 1 in 17 young adults used cocaine. 
  • Approximately 1 in 18 young adults misused opioids. 
  • Approximately 1 in 22 young adults misused prescription benzodiazepines.
  • Approximately 1 in 125 young adults used methamphetamine. 
  • Approximately 1 in 200 young adults used heroin. 

While more than a third of all young adults reported using marijuana in the past year, its use is at a historic high among college-age adults. About 43% of young adults (age 19 to 22) reported past year use, the highest rate in 35 years.3 

The vaping of marijuana has also become increasingly popular among young adults. Approximately 1 in 5 young adults (age 19 to 30) have tried this method at least once, and 1 in 10 young adults report vaping marijuana in the past month.4

Treatment Options for Young Adults

Although addiction is a serious health problem facing young adults, it is a condition that remains severely undertreated. In 2018, only 547,000 of the approximately 5.1 million young adults suffering from a substance use disorder received any form of treatment in the past year.1 This includes treatment that may have been received in a hospital, mental health center, emergency room, private doctor’s office, prison or jail, or self-help group. 

Only 331,000 young adults received substance use treatment at a specialized addiction facility (such as a drug or alcohol rehabilitation facility for young adults), corresponding to only 6.3% of the young adults who needed substance use treatment.1 

Addiction treatment options for young adults will vary based on circumstances and specific needs. Treatment for substance abuse is tailored to each patient’s unique drug use patterns, medical and psychiatric illnesses, and social problems. 

In 2018, there were 2.4 million young adults (7.2% of young adults) diagnosed with both a mental illness and a substance use disorder.1 Such patients will benefit from a dual diagnosis program that can effectively provide treatment for both mental illness and addiction at the same time. 

Young adults battling addiction while attending college may want to look into treatment centers that offer outpatient treatment programs. Such programs would allow these individuals to stay in school, at least on a part-time basis, while receiving treatment. Most young adults, however, will fare better from inpatient (residential) treatment over an extended period of time. These programs are highly effective and provide some of the most successful rates for long-term sobriety. 


  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Abuse of Prescription (Rx) Drugs Affects Young Adults Most.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Marijuana use at historic highs among college-age adults.
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Monitoring the Future: 2018 National Survey Results on Drug Use.HI Divhh
Need more info?
American Addiction Centers Photo
Take the first step towards recovery.
American Addiction Centers Photo
Make the process simple. Ensure your benefits cover treatment.
American Addiction Centers Photo
Explore American Addiction Centers locations nationwide.
View Our Treatment Centers