Misunderstandings regarding the relationship between young people, addiction, and stigma can be harmful to those with a substance use disorder (SUD). Stigma involves negative and often inaccurate beliefs that society has about individuals with SUDs and co-occurring mental health disorders. The fear of judgment by others is often why many young adults don’t seek help. Receiving treatment early on in their addiction reduces their chance of a more complicated and drawn-out recovery.
It is important to understand why younger generations get hooked on substances, the roots of stigmatization in society, and why prompt treatment is needed.
Why Do Young People Use Drugs or Alcohol?
This might seem like a silly question at first. Sure, substances can make you feel good, but that is not the only rationale. Young people may start using drugs or alcohol to:
- Fit in with peers
- Test out new experiences; it can be a thrill
- Get relief from stress and mental health disorders
- Escape traumatic memories and negative emotions
- Improve their academic or sports performance
Who Is At-Risk?
Young adults who have encountered adverse experiences in childhood are at a higher risk for substance use and abuse.Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic experiences that occur between 0-17 years of age. They can include situations like:
- Ongoing economic instability
- Not having basic needs met by caregivers
- Lack of structure or monitoring in the home
- Witnessing or experiencing violence and abuse
- Being raised by caregivers with a SUD, mental health disorder, or criminal record
What Prevents Young People From Getting Help?
Many people who could benefit from the effective health care tools available don’t use them. There can be many reasons for this, especially for young adults.
Young people might not realize there is help available or where to find it. As they are beginning to make their own money and leave home, they might believe that the cost of treatment is too prohibitive at this phase in their life. They might not have health insurance or have recently come off their parent’s insurance.
The Main Reason
Although these points are important, people forgo treatment because of the stigma surrounding addiction. Stigma“represent[s] the complex of attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and structures that interact at different levels of society and manifest in prejudicial attitudes about and discriminatory practices against people with … substance use disorders.” This applies to those with mental health disorders as well.
As an example, some individuals believe that those with an addiction are bad, dirty people that cannot be trusted and are even the lowest members of society that have chosen their fate. Members of the public may contribute addiction to a “moral weakness and flawed character.”
Where Stereotypes Goes Wrong
Certainly, those with an addiction may steal or lie and lack proper hygiene. However, at their core, negative stereotypes about such individuals fail to recognize addiction for what it truly is: a disease of the brain.
Addiction is now understood to change brain structure and function, causing people to behave in ways they normally wouldn’t.
Treating people poorly, even if they did originally choose to take substances, can lead to the internalization of stigma. Young adults who are still getting to know themselves and developing their self-esteem may believe they aren’t worthy of help and harbor deep shame.
Where Does Stigma Come From?
According to government survey data, perceptions and beliefs regarding SUDs are influenced by factors like:
- Personal experiences and biases
- Race, ethnicity, and cultural norms
- A lack of knowledge about SUDs and mental health
- How much contact or experience an individual has had with those who have a SUD
- The way media presents persons with SUDs
Why Is It Important to Get Help?
Young adults tend to be in a difficult position given their fluctuating financial and psychosocial circumstances. Biological factors and health also play a role.
A Growing Brain
The brain does not stop developing until the mid-20s. Substances can damage the structure and function of an area of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex. This affects a person’s ability to make good decisions and may cause them to be more inclined to engage in high-risk activities.
When substance abuse starts early on, there is a good chance this behavior will become a long-term pattern called addiction. Addiction can lead to medical complications like heart disease, sleeping problems, and high blood pressure. Mental health disorders like depression and anxiety co-occur about 50% of the time in individuals with a SUD, making treatment and recovery more complex.
An individual with a SUD needs help that is compassionate and effective. The sooner a young person can receive treatment, the better.
Addiction is a complex brain disease that changes the way people go about their daily lives. Many do not understand the constraints that addiction can place on an individual and their decision to seek or not seek treatment. The internalization of the stereotypical identity of a person with a SUD can hinder a person from getting help. At Vanity Wellness Center, we understand what you could be going through. Located in Woodland Hills, CA., our outpatient treatment center is designed to provide those struggling with addiction and mental health disorders with comprehensive and accessible holistic care. We operate on the basis that every client should be treated with empathy, patience, and professional care. Our clinical team is trained in cultural competence and is committed to working with the diversity of experiences and perspectives that each client may bring. To learn more, call (866) 587-1737.