The youth of every generation likes to party. This ain’t new. But as of recently, young people are taking more drugs than usual. A youth charity in the UK called the Mix recently reported a 50% increase in the number of young folks consuming drugs since 2021, with one in three 16- to 25-year-olds using drugs in the past year, Vice reports. Schedule I and II drugs made the biggest jump from 2021, with methadone, cannabis, amphetamines, and tranquilizers being among the most used.
The survey specifically found that one in five young people mainly use drugs to escape the stressors of our current reality. This signifies a whopping 75% increase in young people using drugs for escapism from last year. It begs the question: Why are so many young people wanting to escape?
“I can’t really control my emotions, so sometimes when I’m angry or sad, I just feel the need to do something to numb it for a while,” a 20-year-old named “Sasha” explained to Vice. Everyone interviewed in the piece asked to remain anonymous, so “Sasha” isn’t her real name. “Or, after I’ve had a hard time I’ll go out that weekend and get wrecked. The ability to escape from the bad stuff becomes extremely addictive.”
Being sober hasn’t been easy for Sasha. “I started feeling like I wasn’t myself if I wasn’t on something,” she told Vice. “Sometimes I don’t really like doing ket at raves or parties, but I feel like I need it during the week to help me feel sane. There have even been times when I’ve done it at work.”
Another young woman named “Emily” has also been getting more into drugs recently. She is 19 years old and uses ketamine a few times a week and also MDMA at least once a week — and not solely for recreational purposes.
“I’ve tried so many drugs for the first time this year,” she said. “Instead of just using when I go out, I also use at home on my own now.”
She said it’s negatively impacted her finances. Earlier this year, she had to take out a £1,000 loan (equivalent to $1,120.86 USD) to make ends meet. Emily says she uses drugs to relieve her from the anxiety she has over the uncertainty of life.
The world has felt like it’s in a precarious place thanks to the pandemic and climate change and war and everything else. While the study looks at the youth in the UK, the implications of the study likely suggest a greater pattern of drug use among freaked out youth around the world who spent their teen years locked indoors and now have adulthood looming on the horizon.
“I feel like I am so overwhelmed with the stress of adulthood,” Emily said. “It’s so difficult for young people nowadays, especially with the cost of living crisis. It feels like there is no hope for us to get on with life, have our own house… That’s why I use drugs more now – because I don’t see much hope for the future.”
Emily isn’t the only one who feels this way. Research from The Prince’s Trust found that almost 23% of the UK’s youth agree that they will never recover from the emotional impact of the pandemic. Almost half say that the pandemic left them feeling “burned out.” The report also reveals that the happiness and confidence of 16- to 25-year-olds is the lowest it’s been in the past 13 years.
Steve Rolles, the senior policy analyst for Transform Drug Policy Foundation, agrees that young peoples’ anxieties will have definitely been compounded by the pandemic, among other global issues, including inflation, housing, climate, job security, etc. The youth isn’t just dealing with an uncertain future, they’re also processing what's happened to us over the past two years and trying to make up for lost time.
“The Mix report identifies a concerning rise in the use of drugs as a form of escape or self-medication,” Steve said to Vice. “Specifically, the issues created or made worse by the pandemic and the lockdown: loneliness, nihilism, social anxiety, lack of connection and undermining of peer and friendship networks. We don't know what the longer-term impacts will be for the generation of young people who lived through the lockdown."
Young people aren’t shy about their drug use on social media these days. Videos of young folks with dilated pupils and running noses flood the TikTok hashtags #pingtok, #horsetranquilizer, and #c0ketok, celebrating (or lamenting) their dedication to partying.
“I have noticed a lot of people that never used to do drugs have started, and it’s the people I never expected it from,” Sasha said. “Sometimes friends that have never tried a certain drug – or any drug – message me asking if I’ll do it with them. I think TikTok has a lot to do with it as I see so many comments of very young people tagging their [friends] saying they need to try pills.”
Despite increasing drug use among young people, there’s still a major lack of support available for those who need it. According to the Mix report, only 28% of young drug users who have experienced issues with substance use have accessed any support or services. This means that over 2.2 million young people are likely struggling without help.
As more young people turn to drugs to cope with a society that’s uncertain, the most important thing they can do is be smart about consumption. Test your powder drugs and pills, look out for your friends, carry Narcan, and don’t be afraid to get help if the party becomes all-consuming.
“Knowledge is power,” adds Steve. “It's really important that young people have access to honest, accurate information about drugs, their effects, the risks and how to manage and reduce them... We don't help keep young people who use drugs safe by declaring war on them.”