Young adults don't have it easy. They're at a stage in life where they are struggling to develop a strong, healthy self-image in the face of a rapidly changing world. They face pressures from their parents, their schools, their jobs, and social media. Unfortunately, many young adults turn to substance use and destructive ways of thinking as coping methods.
Substance abuse, addiction, and mental health conditions affect a person's ability to function and to enjoy life, diminishes their connections with others, and cultivates a negative sense of identity. Even though mental health disorders and addiction issues are common, society still holds negative connotations around these conditions—leading to many lies and myths.
Below, are five common myths and misconceptions surrounding substance abuse and mental health conditions, and the truth, so you can help to shatter the stigma.
Myth 1: Mental health and substance use disorders rarely go hand-in-hand. According to a Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry study, 82 percent of teens who entered a treatment program for addiction also met the criteria for a mental health disorder. Often, a mental health issue can lead to a substance use problem: for example, a teen is feeling depressed and turns to marijuana to numb the feeling. And sometimes substance use can actually trigger a mental health issue; latent schizophrenia may emerge in the early adult years as a result of drug use. These two types of disorders can greatly influence and exacerbate each other, feeding into a vicious cycle.
Because of the overlap in symptoms, it's very important to assess and treat both challenges together. If not treated this way, recovery can be much more difficult, as treatment may only be focusing on one half of the problem. If you or your loved one is working towards recovery and a whole, healthful life, it's important to find a support program that understands and treats co-occurring disorders effectively.
Myth 2: Misusing prescription drugs isn't really an "issue." Just because doctor prescribes a medication doesn't mean that it's safe to take. Prescription drugs are pills, liquids, and other forms of medicine that a doctor or other qualified medical professional has ordered for a specific patient, for a specific medical purpose. Medical professionals who can prescribe these drugs consider many factors, such as the patient's weight and medical history, and they're careful to provide the proper dosage amounts. Because these substances have potentially dangerous side effects, they're not available over the counter.
Painkillers, sedatives, tranquilizers, and stimulants are misused for various reasons, including to feel good or relax, to lose weight, to concentrate better, to have more energy, or to sleep better. No one other than the patients themselves should use their prescription – even if they have the same medical condition. Even patients can use medications only in the amount and method that was prescribed.
Myth 3: Teen marijuana use isn't serious (it's legal most places now, right?). More teens are using marijuana today than at any time in the last three decades – in fact, today's teens are more likely to smoke pot than cigarettes. While many adolescents believe marijuana to be relatively harmless or non-addictive because it's a plant, the truth is that it can significantly negatively impact their emotional regulation, thinking abilities, and physical health. And while many states are legalizing medicinal marijuana or decriminalizing recreational marijuana for adults, it remains illegal for minors nationwide. Because teenagers hold this notion that marijuana use isn't a serious concern, it's important to help them understand the risks and talk to them about pot use early and often.
Marijuana is also far more potent than it was and the past and is also less pure than most people believe. Though teens often claim that marijuana is harmless because it's all "natural", the truth is that, just like any drug sold on the black market, it's unregulated and often cut with substances to increase its weight and profit margin. Some marijuana contains fungus, heavy metals, or bacteria – one lab in Colorado found mold, mildew, E. coli, and salmonella in a strain of (legal) marijuana they tested. Since marijuana is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream when smoked, these substances are a cause for major concern as the extent of their health risks isn't yet fully known. From a potency standpoint, the marijuana cultivated today can have over 5x the amount of THC concentration as compared to marijuana from 20 years ago.
Myth 4: Depression is just "feeling sad." Depression goes further than just feeling sad. It's a mental illness that affects the way you think, feel, and act. It causes you to feel blue or numb persistently, and it hinders your ability to live a normal life. Though there are different levels of severity, it usually includes symptoms such as feelings of sadness or worthlessness, a loss of interest in your normal activities, and general lethargy. You might also experience a dramatic change in eating or sleeping patterns – that is, significantly more or less of either of these activities.
A recent survey by the National Institute of Mental Health shows that nearly 7 percent of American adults had an episode of depression in the previous year. But depression is an even more serious problem for young adults. The same survey found that the age range with the highest prevalence of depression was young adults – at nearly 11 percent. That's one out of every 10 young adults. The good news is that depression is treatable. Many people who struggle with depression have recovered and have gone on to live happy, successful lives.
Myth 5: Going to treatment or rehab is for "crazy people." Seeking treatment and admitting that you need help is not a sign of weakness: it's the first step in getting your life back and learning how to flourish. Looking into treatment for your teen or young adult can be overwhelming and scary for every member of your family, but it's crucial to finding sustainable change, learning coping skills, and tackling life's challenges with confidence. Starting a conversation is the first step!
If you or a loved one is struggling, Sandstone Care is a local treatment program specializing in working with young adults and adolescents struggling with substance abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders. To learn more about their location serving the greater Washington D.C. area, visit www.sandstonecare.com/maryland.