Millennials were raised in a world of endless American war and unchecked climate change. Housing markets bottomed out while college costs and student debt skyrocketed, leaving an entire generation constantly struggling to tread water.
Unsurprisingly, millennials have turned to drugs to heal the pain.
A survey conducted by addiction treatment organization American Addiction Centers (AAC) found that millennials were likelier than baby boomers and Gen-Xers to try prescription drugs, start using illegal drugs at a younger age and use drugs to combat loneliness and depression.
“Millennials are experiencing a much different society than older generations because of the digital world and the new pressures it creates,” said Ruchi Dhami, a member of AAC’s market research team.
Generational breakdowns are usually media-contrived bunk, and the similarities between age groups tracks that assertion. But millennials’ propensity to use illicit drugs earlier in life to cope with the dread of modern American society isn’t worth overlooking. It’s a sign that things are getting worse.
With rising depression among millennials, there’s no surprise to see what’s driving their drug use. According to the AAC survey, 33.3 percent of Millennials started using drugs due to depression and loneliness compared to 26.1 percent percent of Gen-Xers and 18.1 percent of baby boomers. That significant gap suggests increases in depression rates among young people who can’t find a healthier way to cope. It also implies greater drug availability, which starts from a young age. The survey also found that 8.6 percent of millennials started using drugs at age 13 or younger, and 34.6 percent have abused prescription drugs. In our depressing hellscape, opioids being handed out like Halloween candy become one of the easiest drugs to turn to.
Most of the generational differences in the AAC survey were small. The survey asked 1,500 respondents about when, why and what they started using. All three generations reported similar percentages in several categories, including drugs most commonly abused (marijuana followed by cocaine), succumbing to peer pressure and reasons for stopping drug use. (Response percentages were even closer when broken down by gender.) But the millennial gap in prescription drug and age responses showcase a generation that has come of age with a desire to numb themselves from the dread of society while posting about how incredible their life is.
“The near social requirement to have an online presence leads to one constantly re-assessing how they’re seen,” Dhami said. “[Millennials] comparing themselves to how others present themselves online can lead to self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy.”
Young people’s depressive drug use feels obvious. Despite first world status and comforts, America has been a wholly depressing place to grow up. Millennials, like other generations, were taught about American exceptionalism—our superior military, unstoppable economy and unrivaled human rights. But we learned about it at a time when those myths all seemed to crumble before our eyes. Our enormous military was forced into a war with murky intentions, right after the Patriot Act stripped a good chunk of those unrivaled rights away and just before our economy completely tanked. Galvanized by Citizens United, our politics quickly caved to moneyed interests and ramped up cynicism gave rise to outwardly racist politicians and media.
All the while, energy corporations continued farting out CO2, tech companies began exploiting our cognitive deficiencies for enormous profit and pharmaceutical giants took advantage of their medications’ addictive properties and our collective desire to feel less pain. Other generations have to deal with these horrors, too—but perhaps when it’s what you’ve grown up with and all you’ve known, drugs, illicit or not, seem like a pretty sweet alternative.