How Are Millennials Affected By Traditional Drug Addiction?

By Paul Fuhr 09/05/17

Millennials, or Generation Z, appear to be shifting away from marijuana and cocaine use but they are still becoming addicted to other substances.

a group of millennials hanging out

Besides despising the term “millennial,” millennials reportedly dislike lots of other things, too: house buying, shopping in storeshaving kids. Many sites go out of their way to applaud the health-conscious generation for its aversion toward using mind-altering drugs. But a recent story by the Good Men Project says the generation is very much on its own addiction journey.

The story contends that rather than using psychedelics like their parents' generation, millennials instead choose to “abuse prescription painkillers and psychotherapeutics to muscle through their lives”—suggesting that there are just as many cracks in the millennial fault lines as every generation before them.

Recent studies prove that millennials use less marijuana and cocaine in their twenties, opting instead for OxyContin, Vicodin and Adderall, according to the Economist. The trends are intriguing, too, given that Americans’ attitudes toward drugs like marijuana are becoming more liberal. Pew Research Center, for example, claims 57% of U.S. adults think pot should be legal, which is nearly the exact number that opposed its legalization just a decade earlier (60%). As the laws around marijuana have relaxed nationwide, the prevalence of prescription pills has risen.

The Good Men Project says nearly 70% of all Americans are on at least one prescription which, in turn, means that prescription pills are almost everywhere. And that’s where the problems begin: “It is a slippery slope from using a prescription as the doctor ordered to developing a dependence on the drug to get through the day,” the story said.

While prescription pills might be more readily available than in years past, it doesn’t fully explain the uptick in use. Do young Americans have more prescription-demanding needs than previous generations? The Good Men Project story suggests the answer is a resounding “yes,” and that mental health issues may play a large factor. One argument for the uptick in pill use is that so-called “helicopter parenting” has stripped away millennials’ mental defenses so they’re unable to deal with life.

Still, if millennials’ collective “I can’t even” attitude isn’t rooted with their parents, the Good Men Project offers up the economy as another possible reason: millennials may simply have the misfortune of coming into the American workforce at a historically terrible time. As such, they’ve turned “to drugs like Adderall so they can focus on work and outdo the competition for the few jobs available.”

And if that doesn’t sound exhausting enough, another theory believes that social media is the culprit. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat have taken a severe toll on digital natives, the story said, since “they are the generation growing up with it [and] are taking the biggest hit.” 

With 39% of millennials saying they interact with their screens more than people (a number that will only climb, by the way), there’s a deceptively complex if not disturbing subtext. While most millennials believe technology connects them to other people to a far greater degree, it’s actually creating more of a gap between human beings: “They have a false sense of connectivity from interaction on social media and figure that’s good enough,” the article said. “Millennials may not even realize that connecting online for the majority of their interactions isn’t normal behavior.”

That said, that idea of “normal behavior” is slowly being completely rewritten, in that millennials are setting unrealistic expectations for themselves by “expecting life to look like their Instagram feed: polished and perfect at all times,” while their conversation skills and face-to-face relationships are even further eroded. 

“When you grow up with the internet, you know you can find anything on there," a psychotherapist said in a U.S. News and World Report feature. “It's easy to hide behind a computer; and if caught, prescription opioids carry less stigma than many other drugs; it's socially acceptable to say you're struggling with pain or sleeping.”

Even though marijuana and cocaine continue to fall out of favor, drug abuse hasn’t gone anywhere. In some ways, the landscape of addiction is more complex and confusing than ever before. You could fill years of Facebook status updates with what’s been written about tech addiction and the dangers of too much screen time, but it’s fascinating to consider the consequences.

For one, it’s conditioned an entire generation to be susceptible to additional addictions, which is jaw-dropping in and of itself.

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Paul Fuhr lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and two cats, Vesper and Dr. No. He's written for AfterParty MagazineThe Literary Review and The Live Oak Review, among others. He's also the host of "Drop the Needle," a podcast about music and addiction recovery. More at You can also find Paul on Linkedin and Twitter.