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Youth are more at risk for substance abuse than young adults

Friday, August 3, 2018

Unhappy youth sitting in empty stands

Individuals between the ages of 15-22 are at increased odds for substance use disorders, says a study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry this month.

Researchers examined data from more than 9,200 respondents in the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey (Mental Health) and found that 6.4 percent of 15-22 year-olds had drug abuse or dependence, as opposed to 3.6 percent for 23-29 year-olds, but only 1.3 percent for young adults.

When it comes to alcohol abuse and dependence, 8 percent of 15-22 year-olds were at risk, in comparison to 6.6 percent for 23-29 year-olds, and 2.7 percent for young adults aged 30-39.

“We weren’t expecting such large differences between the youngest and oldest age groups,” said Waterloo public health professor Mark Ferro and Canada Research Chair in Youth Mental Health. “It was also interesting that there were no significant differences between the 15-22 year-olds and 23-29 year-olds. It supports the notion that emerging adulthood is extending into the late 20s.”

Ferro said that it’s possible that the youngest age group is most at risk because of the uncertainty of that age period. “Developmentally, it’s a time of instability and self-reflection. These youth are developing a sense of autonomy, may be living independently for the first time to attend university, or starting their careers, but still may not feel like an ‘adult,’ Ferro said. “This instability — or in-betweenness — could be contributing to the higher odds of substance use disorder.”

The findings have implications on screening techniques and treatment for this youngest age group. “It speaks to the need for early prevention efforts,” said Ferro. “Schools and the public health system are in a unique position to collaboratively educate and support youth so that they do not end up on a trajectory of substance abuse.”

The study, An Epidemiological Study of Substance Use Disorders Among Emerging and Young Adults, was co-authored by Ferro, graduate student Rana A. Qadeer (McMaster), Kathy Georgiades (McMaster), and Michael Boyle (McMaster).

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