New Study on Addictions in Young Adults Finds
Teenage Brains More Susceptible to Developing Addictions

Addictions in young adults are tragic — they rob young adults of some of the most important years they have for developing emotional tools, gaining relationship skills, developing a sense of self and getting an education. But when do these addictions first start? It has long been known that substance use has a major and lasting impact on developing brains. However, a new study, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Pediatrics, suggests (more specifically) that adolescents are inclined to develop addictions far more rapidly than adults.

Addictions in Young Adults; Addictions in Teenagers; Drug Treatment for Adolescents; Drug Treatment for Young Adults; Young People in Sobriety; Guardian IOP; Outpatient Programs in New Jersey; Outpatient Programs in Florida

Researchers from the National Institute on Drug Abuse analyzed data that was collected by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health between the years 2015 and 2018. They found that “10.7% of teenagers between the age of 12 and 17 developed cannabis use disorders, versus 6.4% of young adults between the age of 18 and 25.”

The study also found that adolescents were more likely than young adults to develop an addiction to prescription opioids, stimulants and central nervous system depressants. “11.2% of teens were addicted to prescribed opioids, versus 6.9% young adults; 13.9% of teens were addicted to prescribed stimulants, versus 3.9% of young adults; 11.2% of teens were addicted to prescribed tranquilizers, versus 4.7% of young adults.”

The implications of these findings stress further the importance of steering teenagers away from habit-forming substances, even if prescribed by a doctor. The teenage brain’s ability to become addicted seems to be, according to the study, more susceptible to addiction than the brains of young adults. Unfortunately these addictions often follow teenagers into their young adulthoods, and if not arrested, well into their adulthoods. 

Whether you or your loved one got started abusing drugs and alcohol as a teenager, or as a young adult, seeking treatment as soon as possible is critical. The sooner an individual can find freedom from their addiction, the sooner they can begin really living again. And the quicker the brain can re-wire its addicted neural pathways. The Guardian IOP program could be a good option for young adults over the age of 18 to seek treatment in a way that is not as disruptive to their life as a traditional inpatient treatment program. Intensive outpatient programs allow for some flexibility for young adults to continue working or going to school while also attending groups several days a week.

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What is Intensive Outpatient Treatment?

At Guardian IOP we offer a comprehensive program of intensive outpatient treatment. Our Young Adults IOP program is ideal for young adults over the age of 18 who have been struggling with a mild or moderate substance use disorder, but who cannot take an extended break from school or responsibilities. IOP offers more flexibility than traditional rehab but consistently provides the same quality of clinical care.

Clients have access to a wide range of therapeutic services, including:

Our age-specific program for younger adults includes all of the above-listed therapeutic and recovery-related services, and we tailor each individual program to meet the unique needs and requirements of each of our clients. If you or your adult child over the age of 18 has been struggling with substance use, Guardian IOP is available to help.

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Addictions in Young Adults & Teenagers
Facts & Statistics

According to the 2020 Monitoring the Future Survey, 21.3 percent of 8th graders have used an illicit drug at least once during their lifetimes; 37.3 percent of 10th graders have used an illicit drug at least once; and 46.6 percent of 12th graders have engaged in illicit drug use. There are many risks involved in adolescent substance use that go beyond stunted cognitive development.

Additional risks include:

  • An increase in risk-taking behaviors, like combining substances, driving while intoxicated or engaging in promiscuous/unprotected sex
  • Psychological and health-related issues that carry on into adulthood, like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and chronic insomnia
  • A significantly compromised performance at school, which might include truancies, a steep decline in grades and issues with classmates and authoritative figures
  • Emotional issues and uncomfortable emotions like low self-esteem, social isolation, a lack of self-worth and depression

Young Adult Substance Abuse
Signs & Symptoms

Alcohol, marijuana and tobacco are the chemical substances most frequently abused by adolescents and young adults. However, in recent years, the rates of prescription drug abuse among teenagers has been on the rise. Five percent of teenagers interviewed during the 2019 Monitoring the Future Survey admitted to using a prescription stimulant like Adderall or Ritalin for non-medical purposes. 2.5 percent of teenagers admitted to using a prescription painkiller like OxyContin, and 3 percent of teenagers admitted to abusing an over-the-counter cough medication (a trend most common among adolescents and young adults because of the accessibility of the drug dextromethorphan). If you believe that your teenager or young adult child might be abusing a chemical substance, there are several signs and symptoms to look for.

Signs of drug abuse:

  • Your loved one might seem more withdrawn than normal, and might be actively avoiding family members and close friends.
  • He or she might start running into problems at school, like a decline in grades, a failure to complete assignments and important projects and issues with classmates or authoritative figures.
  • Your loved one might come across as hostile and uncooperative one minute, then seem in good spirits the next – keep an eye out for unexplainable mood swings.
  • He or she might avoid eye contact and engage in other suspicious behaviors like locking doors, disappearing for long periods of time with no explanation, breaking curfew regularly and getting defensive when questioned about these behaviors.
  • He or she might try to cover up drug or alcohol use with eye drops, chewing gum or breath mints or perfume/cologne.
  • It is not uncommon for individuals who have been using drugs or alcohol to pay less attention to their personal hygiene – they might wear the same clothing several days in a row, “forget” to shower or brush their teeth, and generally appear unkempt.
  • Sleeping and eating patterns will likely change – your loved one might sleep for long hours or appear tired or the time, and he or she might lose or gain a considerable amount of weight.

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Why Are Addictions in Young Adults Difficult to Treat?

Addictions in young adults can be difficult to treat because young people come with many reservations about sobriety.

Some of these reservations include:

  • They are afraid of being judged by their peers
  • The idea of staying sober “forever” can be extremely overwhelming
  • They feel as if they are alone in their struggles with drug addiction
  • They don’t know how they will “have fun” if they can’t use drugs or drink
  • Young people have a more difficult time making rational decisions
  • They are concerned about what they are going to do in social situations

It is crucial that young adults enter a program that understands these specific difficulties and can thoroughly address these concerns. At Guardian IOP we focus on teaching our young adult clients how to be sober as a young person. We have highly-experiences psychologists who know how to work with young adults, and the outpatient schedule allows young adults to attend treatment while also going to school or attending work. 

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At Guardian IOP we offer comprehensive intensive outpatient programs in Florida and New Jersey. We remain dedicated to consistently delivering effective addiction treatment in a supportive environment, while equipping each and every one of our clients with the coping mechanisms and life skills they need to eventually transition into fully independent living. If you or your loved one has been struggling with a substance abuse disorder of any severity, recovery is possible. We are here to help. Please contact us today so we can help you walk through the process, step-by-step. On the other end of the line or email you will find a loving, empathetic and compassionate individual who is passionate about helping you and your family find healing.


Reviewed for accuracy by:

Anna earned her Masters of Social Work at Barry University in Miami, FL in 2017 and completed her internship in co-occurring disorders. Anna has a Bachelors of Art in Religious Studies from Naropa University and is a certified yoga and meditation instructor. Anna has received specialized training in somatic counseling with an emphasis on body-centered psychotherapy.