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Can Young Adult Polysubstance Use Be Prevented?

Polysubstance Use Among Young Adults Is on the Rise

According to a new study performed by Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, young adults in the United States (aged 18-25 years) are reporting increasingly high rates of polysubstance use. Polysubstance use refers to the act of using multiple drugs at the same time or alternating between two or more drugs to counteract the side effects of the other. Common substances of abuse include: alcohol, stimulants, inhalants, and depressants. Polysubstance use can be indicative of a larger substance dependency issue and presents a high risk of fatal overdose. Columbia researchers found that young Americans report the highest prevalence of non-medical use of prescription drugs in the past year (15%), binge drinking in the past month (37%), and illicit drug use in the past month (24%) of all age groups.

Researchers at the University of Michigan also noticed a pattern between young adults with polysubstance use and an association with substance use disorder symptoms occurring at 35 years of age. Much of this occurred as young adults began using drugs and formed a “peak use” between 27 and 28 years old.

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Causes of Polysubstance Abuse and Risk Factors

Not much information exists on why or how polysubstance abuse occurs. However, it is safe to assume it stems from the reasons for substance abuse. These reasons can include filling a void, to numb a mental or emotional disorder, or chasing a thrill once a substance wears off. Furthermore, having a history of drug tolerances, overdoses, and dependences indicate a risk of polysubstance abuse.

There are distinct criteria to diagnose a substance use disorder:

  • Tolerance: This is when someone has gotten use to the substance and needs more to feel its the same effects.
  • Withdrawal: These include an onset of symptoms one feels when they stop taking the drug or reduced their dosage.
  • Cannot stop using the substance: In the case of polysubstance abuse, it may be extremely difficult to discontinue use. In many cases, the difficulty of withdrawal symptoms can encourage a user to continue abusing substances.
  • Increasing drug use or dosages over time.
  • Spending a lot of time and money abusing drugs.
  • Self-harm due to polysubstance abuse.

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Polysubstance Treatment

Officials are proposing treatment as a method to combat youth substance abuse. Many are suggesting screenings and care to aid in polysubstance use. Taking action to aid young adult battling polysubstance use is key. This will help them lessen their rate of a life-long addiction or overdose. Records have indicated a third of young adults who abused substances have not been asked about drugs and alcohol by the providers of their insurance.

As a response to the growing concerns, many are proposing multilevel intervention. This includes programs expanding to harm reduction and affordable treatment. Not using harmful chemicals is the best way to prevent substance abuse in young adults. Another step to restore and heal one’s health through treatment.

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