Why Are Millennials More Likely to Get an SUD?

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July 20, 2021

For the past decade or so, we’ve been seeing a troubling demographic quirk in Boston rehab centers. It seems that Millennials are noticeably more likely to be diagnosed with a substance use disorder (SUD) compared to either younger or older generations. Anecdotally, it seems that this pattern holds through most of the US.

Compared to older boomers and Gen-Xers and younger zoomers, millennials, the cohort of people generally agreed to be aged 24 to 40 in the year 2021, are at a significantly higher risk for SUD and overdose. This is a pattern that has only started to emerge in recent years, and as of yet, there are few undisputed reasons why this would be the case.

As we alluded to earlier, contrary to what many people may still think, the majority of millennials are no longer in school, and the vast majority of college-age people today are in the Gen-Z cohort, the older of whom have already graduated. This means that the high concentration of universities and colleges in Boston is probably not a direct cause of Greater Boston millennials’ higher probability of developing an SUD.

However, we can make some educated guesses about what the causes would be, based on our experience as well as major differences in the upbringing of different demographics. Below are some likely reasons why millennials are particularly more likely to have an SUD.

1.) They are more likely to seek help for itThe high diagnosis rates of millennials may simply be indicative of them being more cognizant of potential substance problems and being more willing or able to seek professional help. Emotional literacy has seen an upsurge in the past few decades and older generations may not be as in tune with their feelings and condition as younger ones.

Rates of alcohol and drug consumption were higher among Gen-Xers than millenials when either group was of school age, so one might expect that that Gen-Xers would have more SUDs. However, this is clearly not the case.

It may come down to the willingness of individuals in either group to seek help. In the case of zoomers, it may be down to the fact that it is a young generation and not all of them are independent enough to seek help on their own.

2.) They grew up in a time of unfettered social media

Most mental health experts will now agree that social media has an overall negative effect on mental health. Social media arose just as millennials were coming of age in the 2000s, and it was an unfettered, largely unregulated landscape.

Though it’s arguable if things improved today (some would argue that it did not) social media created unforeseen negative effects on millennials’ then growing brains. Their collective experiences in the wild virtual landscape of social media have likely led to a direct increase in traumas and mental health issues that spurred on later drug and alcohol misuse.

3.) Their mental health and emotional literacy was not prioritized

The obvious question is why gen-Z, a younger generation more steeped in internet culture and social media does not have, as of yet, the same issues as millennials do now.

It’s important to realize that since the 1970s, Americans have slowly but progressively become more sensitive to mental health issues. Boomer and Gen-X parents of zoomers were thus, more and more likely to use new knowledge of mental health in their parenting as time went by, taking into account the then-emerging dangers of the internet.

Millennials, by contrast, were raised by their parents in an environment where such awareness was not as widespread or deemed as important. This may be reflected by how affected they were by subsequent social changes.

4.) Economic hardships have hit millennials especially hard

Millennials in the United States are among the poorest generations recorded. In 1989, when the oldest boomers hit 40, the generation controlled 21% of American wealth. By contrast, millennials control just 3% today. They are also the first American generation to have a lower living standard than previous generations, all while accumulating a quarter of the nation’s personal debt.

Regardless of how individual millennials got into such precarious positions, it’s easy to see why so many would turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the trauma of being financially insecure.

5.) Millennials are one of the unhealthiest generations in general

Economic hardship has also dramatically affected millennials’ health for the worse. Millennials are emerging to be the unhealthiest living American generation, both mentally and physically speaking.

Millennials are now so poor, many are forced to prioritize immediate needs over healthcare, which has become especially unattainable. Unfortunately, when physical and mental health is left unattended, chances are that the person becomes more vulnerable to substance misuse, and therefore, substance use disorders.

A perfect storm of demographically tragic events such as the rising cost of healthcare, lower incomes, and the lower cost of nutritionally empty foods has given millennials worse health than either gen-Xers or zoomers. The problem is so bad that the Blue Cross Blue Shield network of insurance companies has estimated that millennials will have a 40% higher mortality rate than zoomers as both ages reach late adulthood.

Conclusion

Things are not looking great for millennials as a whole, especially given the recent societal disruptions caused by COVID. However, regardless of your age, there are always options for recovery. If you or someone you love has a problem with drugs or alcohol, our team at Boston Drug Treatment Centers is ready to help. Good luck, and stay sober!