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Grand Futures: The link between substance use and transitioning into adulthood

Lance Phipps and Amber DeLay
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Most teenagers dream of leaving their parents house as they either prepare to begin their career or get ready to move to college; however, it is no secret that the transition into young adulthood can be stressful for some.

New things are happening all at once, which can make it difficult to cope with the stressors of change. One may meet new people, move to a new area or pursue something new to them in some way, and these new things may lead to exposure to new substances. Substances forbidden in a parent’s house, but they are not around once you leave.

According to data produced by surveys from 2018 on behalf of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, individuals within the age group of 18-25 saw an increase in binge drinking and cigarette smoking.



Following that, the 2019 Monitoring the Future National Survey Results on Drug Use examined college students and found that the use of other illicit substances, such as MDMA, amphetamines, cocaine and hallucinogens like LSD or magic mushrooms, is highest among individuals in their early 20’s. It is important to note that while there is an increase in substance use during this phase of life, not everyone who moves out of their parent’s house begins to experiment.

Data on this is lacking due to the heavy focus on how many people are using substances in early adulthood, but this is slowly changing as more organizations are focusing on how many younger peers are not misusing substances.

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Now, the increase in substance use during this transition phase happens for many reasons, but the main reasons are increased access to substances as social circles expand, increased partying as one enters college life and lack of other healthy coping skills.

Once one is out of arm’s length reach from their parents, they may begin socializing more with different people as they try to find their post-high school friend group, and as this unfolds, that individual has an increased chance of meeting people who are into experimenting with substances since they will most likely be in the same age group.

This same scenario can play out as one enters college life but at a more rapid pace due to being in an environment where everyone has just moved out of their parent’s house, and many college students are going to be open to “trying new things.” Combine either scenario with a lack of unhealthy coping mechanisms and things could potentially get heavier than anticipated.

Some of the best actions to take as a person experiencing trouble with substances due to this reason are reaching out for help, surrounding yourself with friends who are not into using substances and finding healthy alternatives to engage in such as exercise, music, art and/or mindfulness practices, such as yoga or meditation.

The brain is still developing through this transition phase and falling victim to substances could possibly hinder the development of your frontal lobe, which is crucial for decision making.

Lance Phipps is a service member with AmeriCorps BHEC hosted by Grand Futures Prevention Coalition and Amber DeLay is executive director of Grand Futures.


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