Millennials and Addiction:
What Happened to Our Generation?

Millennials Drug Abuse - Serious young people standing on the street.

What happened to our millennial generation? Why are millennials more prone to drug abuse than older adults are? Why are young people in this day and age the most at risk for hard, street drug use, alcoholism, and drug-related deaths? The truth is, there are a few, key factors that predispose millennials to substance abuse.

Economic Distress

Millennials are the first generation that has experienced a workforce where they must spend four to six years in college to even be qualified for a job that they might not even get. Whereas previous generations could rely on some job security and a comfortable salary, the concept of “job security” is a pie in the sky “maybe someday” term for the millennial generation.

Asian american gal standing with a bottle of alcohol

Millennials are the effect of more insecurity and instability in the workforce than any generation that came before them, all the way back to the Great Depression. Work stress, college debt, and financial uncertainty are huge precipitators to drug abuse and alcohol misuse amongst millennials.

The Disconnected Generation

We can blame this one on the internet, on social media, on our smartphones, and on addictions to all of the above. That’s right, the millennial generation is the first generation to be fully addicted to the internet and to mobile devices. It’s like they were born with cell phones in their hands (which makes us really concerned about the next generation where seven-year-olds now have smartphones).

Followers, text messages, notifications, social media “likes,” all of it releases dopamine in the brain, the same physiological result of drug use or of drinking alcohol. Constant use of social media, the internet, and those precious little devices predispose the millennial generation to actual substance abuse for an even bigger dopamine release.

Rebels Without a Purpose

Millennials are the generation of live-at-homers. Mom and Dad’s basement. No, they’re not all nerds who never see the light of day and who never moved out, but they are those guys and gals who moved back home to live with Mom and Dad when they couldn't get a great job after college (see Point #1 above). Millennials are the sons and daughters of Baby Boomers, born in a time period of strong economic growth (the late 1980s and the 1990s) so their parents, now retired, can usually afford to take them back in.

Millennials had it pretty good growing up, for the most part. But as adults, millennials try to define themselves and make something of the generation, all while being dumped into the post-Great-Recession-college-debt-no-work-experience adulthood. It’s a rough transition, one that can contribute strongly to millennials reaching for pill bottles and liquor flasks.

Drugs Don’t Seem Dangerous Anymore

Millennial smoking drugs

Millennials watched nine states legalize the recreational use of marijuana and twenty-nine states legalize the medicinal use of marijuana. Millennials grew up with their Hippie Generation parents regaling them with stories of free love and even freer drugs. Millennials saw legalized drugs kill more Americans than illegal drugs.

Drugs do not carry the same taboo they once did, and millennials were the first youth generation that was exposed to that. Millennials aren't as afraid of drugs. While all of us know that drug use and alcohol abuse is essentially wrong, no one can deny that such activities are now more accepted in society than they once were.

Reinventing the Millennial Generation

If for no other reason than necessity alone (millennials are about to become the new, adult generation of the U.S.) millennials will have to shed drug use and alcohol misuse. They'll have to take over the reigns of the red white and blue. Millennials need to come full circle. Millennials will need to set aside drugs, smartphones, and alcohol and emerge from their parents’ basements.

It’s not all up to them though. All of the rest of us need to help them do it. When there is an addiction, we need to offer rehabilitation. When there is a need for help, solace, support, assistance, and a shoulder to lean on, we need to be there. This is the new generation that will run America. We need to make sure it is a good America to be run by good, hardworking, sober people. We're all in this together.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.