Substance Abuse Among Young Adults

Young adults aged from 18 to their mid to late 20’s are one of the highest users of substances such as cocaine, cannabis, and alcohol. It is a time of life where they get their freedom, moving out of the family home, perhaps beginning college or a new career after school which all present unique challenges. It’s a time of transition for many, which can often lead to stress. Many begin experimenting with various drugs and alcohol at this age due to many factors. It may be the stress brought on but can also be down to a desire to experiment with these different substances, the pressures from peers and sometimes even mental illness.

Due to young adults being one of the highest users of these substances, it stands to reason that unfortunately this age group are also among the highest abusers of these substances. Below are some statistics from Alcohol Action Ireland on the consumption of alcohol amount young adults:

  • Almost two thirds (64.3%) of 18 to 24-year-old drinkers who participated in the survey consumed six or more standard drinks on a typical drinking session.
  • Among 18 to 24-year-olds, 28% of young men and 22% of young women consume their low-risk weekly guidelines in just one sitting.
  • Monthly binge drinking most common among the 18 to 24-year-old age group (at 60%).
  • Harmful drinking is highest among the 18 to 24-year-old age group (at 75%).
  • Dependent drinking is highest among the 18 to 24-year-old age group (at 15%)

Young adults do not just have high rates of alcohol use, but this age group also has high rates of illicit substances. However, within this age group, certain groups are more likely to misuse substances than others. For example, on average men aged 19-30 have higher rates of substance use than women. Research has also found that certain drug use such as cannabis among young adults is on the rise in use, something which is concerning.


One theory as to why young adults misuse substances is in relation to the part of the brain called the frontal lobe. This is the part of the brain that controls decision-making, processing, natural inhibitions and cognitive flexibility. It ordinarily doesn’t develop until an individual is in their mid-20’s and therefore some researchers believe it impacts young adults’ tendency to make unreliable judgements and decision and therefore abuse substances. The counter argument to this theory however, is that not every young adult abuses these substances, which would suggest that the frontal lobe cannot be 100% to blame.

There are lots of other factors that can influence a young adult to misuse substances. Family, friends, community, environment and individual motives are all possible contributing factors to explain substance abuse. For others, experimenting with substances is viewed as almost a part of exploring your identity or a way to simply fit in.


There are several warning signs to look out for in young adults, which could possibly indicate that the individual is suffering with a substance use disorder. If you notice any of the below signs in a friend or loved one, we recommend speaking to them and make your concerns clear. If you’re sure that they are suffering with a substance use disorder read our blog on ‘A Guide to Staging an Intervention’ (Link blog here) for some helpful tips and advice.

Behavioural Changes

Of course, with the transition through teenage years and beyond, there will be evident changes in behaviour. However, we would recommend monitoring this behaviour to see if there are changes that are unusual or out of the ordinary. These would include:

  • Sudden poor performance academically in school or college
  • Missing school / college or other extracurricular activities such as sports games etc.
  • A change of friends they hang around with or change in social circles
  • Acting isolated and / or secretive
  • Doing illegal activities
  • Being angry regularly and acting very hostile
  • Increasing their privacy
  • Disappearing without explanations

Psychological Changes

Yet again, young people will have psychological changes as they grow up but what’s important is to take note of any psychological changes that would be outside their regular pattern. These may include:

  • Mood swings frequently
  • Having low energy or dramatic shifts in their energy levels
  • Speaking rapidly or slurring their words
  • Fear or paranoia
  • Problems with their memory
  • Concentration issues
  • Behaving manipulatively

Health Changes

There are several different health changes that may indicate an issue with substance abuse in a young adult. These include:

  • Appetite decreasing or increasing substantially
  • Issues with Coordination
  • Frequent illness
  • Erratic sleep schedule

Appearance Changes

Young adults and teenagers can often alter their appearance dramatically as they mature or discover new social circles and friends. This is something that is perfectly normal. However, again there are changes that may be outside of your normal appearance changes that may be warning signs and indicate substance abuse. They include:

  • Pinpoint pupils or bloodshot eyes
  • Wearing long sleeves even in warm weather
  • Track marks visible on their arms
  • Scratching consistently
  • Sudden weight change, either loss or gain
  • Decrease in personal hygiene
  • Bruises, cuts, or sores
  • Unusual odour


Tabor Group provides residential & community-based addiction treatment programmes to men and woman over 18 years of age, who are struggling with addiction to alcohol, drugs, and gambling. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, get help today. We can help you recover in a healthy, friendly environment and beat your addiction. Do not hesitate to contact one of our counsellors today for information by calling +353 (21) 488 7710 for Cork or +353 (1) 639 2962 for Dublin, or alternatively you can email us at info@taborgroup.ie. We can help you.