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Gen Z and Addiction

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Gen Z Have a Higher Risk of Developing Addiction

Generation Z, more commonly referred to as Gen Z, refers to the demographic group that follows Generation Y, also known as Millennials.

Navigation: Does Gen Z Have a Higher Risk of Developing Addiction?, Influence of Social Media on Young People, Technology, Unaffordable Healthcare, Mental Health, Peer Pressure, Other Risk Factors, Signs and Symptoms to Watch Out for, Protecting Your Gen Z Loved Ones from Drug Addiction, Rehab Is Your Best Chance


Generation Z, more commonly referred to as Gen Z, refers to the demographic group that follows Generation Y, also known as Millennials. Despite the widespread usage of this term, there is actually no universally agreed-upon definition for the exact birth years that define Gen Z. However, demographers typically consider them to be individuals born between the late 1990s and the early 2010s.

Since drug addiction can affect anyone, even members of Gen Z run a risk of developing substance use disorders (SUDs).

In 2015, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that 23.6% of 12th graders used illicit drugs that year. Meanwhile, alcohol abuse is also a problem. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), over 4, 200, 000 people between the ages 12 and 20 participated in binge drinking.

But are Gen Zs really more inclined to develop a substance abuse problem than other generations? What are the cultural factors that make zoomers more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol? Because adolescent health is a huge concern for parents, it is important to answer these questions. Let’s take a closer look.


Does Gen Z Have a Higher Risk of Developing Addiction?

When people think about substance abuse and Gen Z, they usually think it’s because of social media or because of their age group. But the truth is, it is usually a combination of those things.

Substance abuse and addiction are complex issues influenced by various factors such as socioeconomic status, family environment, peer influence, mental health conditions, and more. Unfortunately, Gen Z are exposed to all of these things the same way older generations are.

But because of the fact that their brains are still developing and they are still learning about the world around them, the effect on them could be greater. Nearly 90% of SUDs develop during the teenage years.

According to the Department of Justice, 1 in 6 teens have used prescription drugs to alter their mood or just get high. It’s a combination of things like curiosity, experimentation, and peer pressure.

Certain drugs, such as marijuana, alcohol, and prescription medications, tend to be more commonly abused by this age group.

It’s worth noting that making definitive statements about an entire generation is impossible. In fact, not all members of Gen Z engage in drug abuse. But for those who do, it’s worth looking into the various factors that contribute to their addiction.


Influence of Social Media on Young People

There’s a reason why Gen Z are so often associated with their phones and social media. It’s because they are the first generation to have grown up entirely in the digital age, with widespread access to the internet, smartphones, and social media. Gen Z are particularly adept at using social platforms and other digital tools.

So while social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are connected with millennials, Gen Z spend even more time on these popular social platforms. Today, TikTok is one of the most widely-used platforms in the world. Gen Z are spending a lot of hours each day browsing these different apps.

Unfortunately, these platforms can sometimes expose them to unique risks that may push them towards substance abuse. For example, one fad called the Benadryl challenge became popular on TikTok and it involved users taking Diphenhydramine and then posting their experiences. Such fads can be dangerous. In 2020, a 15 year-old girl in Oklahoma died after taking part in the challenge and overdosing on the drug.

Social media can expose people to viral videos of influencers taking drugs or talking about it in a positive way.

Social media itself can be addictive. These platforms employ various techniques to keep users engaged and coming back for more. Features like likes, comments, shares, and notifications trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This creates a feedback loop, where users seek out more of these positive interactions, leading to compulsive and addictive behavior.

According to a report by Harvard University, sharing experiences, thoughts, and dreams on social platforms can trigger a portion of the brain that is associated with addiction.

Most people long for the validation of others, and social media can give you that kind of rush. The number of likes, followers, and comments can become a measure of self-worth and social status. This constant pursuit of validation can lead to addictive behaviors, with individuals seeking approval and recognition through excessive use of social media.

Social media often portrays the highlights of people’s lives, leading to a fear of missing out on experiences or feeling left out. Constantly seeing others’ curated and seemingly perfect lives can create a sense of inadequacy and a desire to constantly check social media for updates. This fear of missing out contributes to addictive behaviors as individuals feel the need to stay connected at all times.

It can also work the other way around. In social media platforms, you can present the best version of yourself and have it be ‘liked’ by others. The pressure to maintain a certain image can contribute to stress, which may lead to substance abuse.

Thanks to engaging content and features like infinite scrolling and autoplay, users can spend excessive amounts of time on social media, often at the expense of real-life activities, relationships, and responsibilities. The addictive nature of social media can cause individuals to lose track of time and become preoccupied with their virtual interactions. Losing the ability to limit your social media exposure can make way for other bad habits and impulsive decisions.

Speaking of stress, social media can also be used as a platform for cyberbullying, which causes high levels of stress for the bullied individual. The problem is that people can comment anonymously or gang up on a certain individual. This contributes to emotional vulnerability and stress, which may push Gen Z into abusing drugs or alcohol.

Social media can foster a culture of comparison, competition, and validation. At the same time, it can also create a toxic environment for users when they don’t receive validation or when they experience cyberbullying. The constant exposure to carefully curated and often unrealistic representations of others’ lives can have a negative impact on your mental health. The same can be said for online harassment.

For individuals who are predisposed to addictive behaviors these platforms can significantly contribute to the development and reinforcement of addictive tendencies.


Gen Z has grown up with unprecedented access to technology and the internet. And while technology offers numerous benefits, excessive use of smartphones, social media, and video games can potentially contribute to addictive behaviors.

In fact, technology plays a significant role in the development and perpetuation of drug addiction in several ways.

Smartphones have made it easier for individuals to access information about drugs, including their effects, availability, and methods of use. This accessibility can increase curiosity and lead some Gen Zs to experiment with substances they otherwise may not have encountered.

Similarly, video games may have themes and scenes that involve the use of drugs. Just like movies, music, and television shows, games can sometimes glamorize drug and alcohol abuse.

In some rare cases, the internet can even facilitate the distribution of illicit drugs through online marketplaces. Through encrypted communication channels, people can buy drugs with relative anonymity, making it easier for them to engage in substance abuse.

It’s important to note that technology itself is not inherently responsible for addiction. However, its integration into various aspects of modern life has created new avenues and challenges for addictive behaviors, including drug addiction.

Taking the technology away isn’t always the solution, since technology is everywhere and has plenty of undeniable benefits. The best way to address substance abuse in Gen Zs is through education. It is possible to use technology in a way that informs and educates them about the dangers of addiction.

Technology can also provide support and resources for individuals seeking recovery from addiction. Online forums, apps, and telemedicine platforms offer access to counseling, peer support, and treatment options that can aid in the recovery process.

This means technology’s role in drug addiction is not entirely negative. It can also be utilized to raise awareness about the dangers of substance abuse, educate individuals about addiction, and provide valuable resources for prevention and treatment.

Unaffordable Healthcare

It is said that due to their lack of access to affordable healthcare, Gen Z is on track to be one of the unhealthiest generations on record. Reports say that 10% of zoomers in the US suffer from severe major depression, but only 40% of those received proper treatment. To make matters worse, of that 40%, only 27.3% received consistent treatment.

Medical conditions like substance use disorder can keep them from living healthy and fulfilling lives. But without healthcare, it is difficult to address these issues.

 When healthcare is unaffordable, those who are facing addiction may not have access to the necessary treatment options like rehab programs, counseling, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and other forms of support. And this applies to all generations—not just Gen Z.

Without affordable healthcare, people may turn to substances as a form of self-medication for their physical or mental health issues. This can lead to a cycle of addiction as individuals become dependent on drugs or alcohol to cope with their untreated health problems.

The lack of access to healthcare can actually add to the stress of individuals who are looking to get treatment for their substance use disorder. Medical bills and the cost of medication can quickly accumulate, causing financial strain and potentially leading to other socio-economic challenges.

It’s also a problem because it limits access to preventive care such as check-ups, screenings, and early intervention efforts for potential health issues. Without these preventive measures, individuals may be more likely to experience health problems that can contribute to addiction. For example, if chronic pain is left untreated, it can lead to the misuse of opioids, which are highly addictive drugs.

Affordable and accessible healthcare, along with comprehensive addiction treatment options, play a crucial role in addressing and preventing addiction in society.

Mental Health

Speaking of health problems that contribute to addiction, mental health problems certainly fit the bill. Gen Z are considered some of the most depressed people in the history of the US. This may be due to their exposure and increased awareness towards societal problems such as mass shootings, political turmoil, and racial inequality. Gen Z are also more open to the idea of seeking treatment and getting diagnosed for mental health problems. This generation understands the importance of mental health and is more inclined to seek proper treatment.

Unfortunately, when mental health conditions go untreated, it can extend into adulthood and the symptoms can worsen. When a person has mental health problems, they are at higher risk of developing a substance use disorder.

There has always been a strong correlation between mental health disorders and addiction. They say one can cause the other and vice-versa. This is why these two conditions often co-occur.

Individuals with mental health disorders may turn to drugs or addictive behaviors as a way to self-medicate and alleviate their symptoms. Substance use can provide temporary relief from conditions such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or bipolar disorder. However, this relief is short-lived.

Certain mental health disorders are associated with imbalances in brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Drugs and addictive behaviors can temporarily alter these imbalances, leading to a sense of relief or pleasure. Over time, the brain becomes dependent on the substances or behaviors to maintain balance, leading to addiction.

Mental health disorders can impair an individual’s ability to cope with stress, emotions, or life’s challenges. Addictive substances or behaviors can be used as coping mechanisms to escape from or numb emotional pain, anxiety, or other difficult feelings.

On the other hand, some addictive substances cause mental health problems as a result of their abuse. The interplay between mental health and addiction can make treatment more challenging, as both conditions need to be addressed simultaneously for effective recovery. The best way to achieve lasting recovery is through dual diagnosis treatment.

Peer Pressure

When it comes to Gen Z, there are a lot of social factors that can influence their relationship with drugs and alcohol. These social factors extend beyond social media.

Peer pressure can play a significant role in the development of addiction. During adolescence and young adulthood, individuals are particularly susceptible to the influence of their peers as they seek acceptance, validation, and a sense of belonging.

Friends can establish certain expectations regarding substance use. They can encourage one another to drink alcohol, smoke, or experiment with drugs. When someone feels pressured to conform to these norms, they may engage in substance use to fit in even if they don’t want to.

If a person’s friends are engaging in substance use, it becomes easier for them to obtain drugs or alcohol, increasing the likelihood of experimentation. This may eventually lead to addiction.

Positive reinforcement from peers can strengthen addictive behaviors. With their desire to fit in, they may feel rewarded when they receive praise for using drugs or drinking excessively. They will do it just to feel accepted or to get into a social circle. They will not stop to think about the health consequences of their actions.

Overall, peer pressure distorts your perception of what is normal and accepted behavior. But just like other risk factors, peer pressure is just one thing that contributes to addiction. There are many other things that come into play when it comes to the development of drug addiction and alcoholism.

Other Risk Factors

There are many factors that contribute to addiction—generation is just one of them. After all, addiction is a complex condition that is influenced by many different factors.

Drug addiction is a complex condition influenced by various factors. Here are some of the key factors that can contribute to the development of drug addiction:

Biological Factors: Genetic predisposition and individual variations in brain chemistry can increase the vulnerability to drug addiction. Some people may be more susceptible to developing an addiction due to inherited traits that affect their response to drugs. If you have a family member who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, you may have an increased risk of addiction.

Environmental Factors: The environment plays a crucial role in the development of drug addiction. Factors such as family dynamics, early exposure to drugs, socioeconomic status, trauma from physical and sexual abuse, and availability of drugs in the community can all contribute to the risk of addiction.

Psychological Factors: We mentioned self-medication and mental health problems as risk factors that can contribute to drug addiction. Being unable to cope with stress using healthy methods can also be a factor.

Social Factors: Other than peer pressure and validation from social media, other social influences can significantly impact the development of drug addiction. For example, a lack of positive social support systems can increase the likelihood of substance abuse.

Developmental Factors: The age at which drug use begins is an important factor. Early initiation of drug use during adolescence, a period of significant brain development and vulnerability, can increase the risk of addiction. Additionally, Gen Zs who experience traumatic events during childhood or adolescence may be more susceptible to substance abuse later in life.

As you can see, addiction is a complex and multifaceted issue. The interplay of these factors can vary from person to person. Generally speaking, having multiple risk factors means that you are at a high risk of becoming addicted if you take drugs or drink excessive amounts of alcohol.

Signs and Symptoms to Watch Out for

Protecting your Gen Z loved ones from the dangers of addiction starts with recognizing the signs and symptoms of it. The exact symptoms may vary from one person to another, so having one or two of these may not always confirm an addiction. However, noticing these signs persistently over a period of time may be a cause for concern.

You may notice sudden and significant shifts in their behavior. Family members and close friends are usually the ones to notice these behavioral changes first. The addicted individual may act more secretive about their activities, their whereabouts, and who they are spending time with. They may also exhibit severe mood swings, agitation, hostility, or a decline in academic performance.

They will lose interest in things they used to enjoy, including their hobbies, friendships, and romantic relationships. If they are still studying, they may experience deterioration in grades or have decreased motivation in school-related activities. They may even skip classes in favor of taking drugs.

They may also exhibit changes in sleep patterns: they may struggle with insomnia, oversleeping, or irregular sleep patterns.

Eventually, the effects of their substance abuse will be apparent in their physical appearance. They may neglect their personal hygiene, leading to unusual smells on their breath or clothing. They may have bloodshot eyes and dilated or constricted pupils. If they are injecting drugs, they will have track marks. Some people will go through a sudden and unexplained weights loss or gain.

Another sign of substance abuse and addiction is financial problems. An addicted person will ask for money frequently and without a reasonable explanation. If they can’t have it, they may resort to stealing money or valuables from family members or friends. They will also begin to neglect their responsibilities at home, school, or work.

Another sign of drug abuse and addiction is finding drug-related items and paraphernalia in their room, such as pipes, rolling papers, needles, empty pill bottles, or small plastic bags.

Remember: addiction is characterized by the inability to control your intake of drugs or alcohol even when you are already suffering from the consequences. This is a chronic and relapsing medical condition that requires proper medical treatment.

If you suspect a teenager may be struggling with drug addiction, it is important to approach the subject with empathy and concern. Encourage open communication and seek professional help if necessary.

Protecting Your Gen Z Loved Ones from Drug Addiction

Protecting Gen Z from drug addiction requires a multi-faceted approach that involves education, communication, and support. The most important step is education and awareness. Education and awareness can prevent drug addiction from developing in the first place. If that’s not possible, having knowledge about addiction can fight the stigma associated with this condition and encourage treatment. Convincing young adults to go to rehab is not an easy feat, but it’s possible through proper education.

From an early age, you need to educate your loved ones about the science of addiction, including how drugs affect the brain and body. Knowing the consequences and risks of drug use can help prevent it, and it can also help those who are already engaging in it.

You can also teach them critical thinking and decision-making skills to help them resist peer pressure and make informed choices.

It is also important to foster an environment where open and honest communication about drugs and addiction is encouraged. Maintain an ongoing dialogue with them and discuss risks and consequences associated with drug use. You can also establish some rules regarding substance abuse, letting them know what will happen when they break these rules. Be ready to enforce these rules if necessary.

Encourage them to ask questions and seek clarification, so that they have accurate information about drugs.

Finally, be a positive role model for them. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, avoid substance abuse, and demonstrating responsible behavior. With a positive role model, they can make better decisions based on what they know about you.

Unlike their parents’ generation, Gen Zs are more sensitive to their emotions and are more aware about their mental health. Compare this to the previous generations where mental health is stigmatized and considered a taboo subject. This can work to your advantage as a parent because you can easily help them understand the importance of pursuing treatment if they have a mental condition or a substance use disorder.

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse and addiction, look for an addiction treatment center near you and learn all about the different treatment options and programs that are available. The journey to recovery begins today.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.


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