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What Is the Harm of Substance Experimenting?

Is substance experimentation always harmful? Many people may doubt it. Some people argue that not all experimenting with drugs leads to addiction.

Unfortunately, this is a widespread but dangerous misconception. There is no healthy way to experiment with drugs or alcohol, especially for individuals in a developmental stage. According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, “[S]tudies demonstrate that the adolescent brain continues to mature well into the 20s.”

For many people, experimentation occurs in their teen years. However, experimenting with substances can affect young adults too.

Substance Experimentation at a Developmental Stage

Risk-taking behaviors are part of the developmental stage when young peoples’ identities as independent individuals are forming. Young adults often need to seek some thrill and test their abilities. They like to experiment because they are at a time in life to push the boundaries. In a way, their brains are programmed to experiment.

Drugs or alcohol may pique the curiosity of those who view using these substances as a new or daring experience. Susceptible to peer pressure, they may be afraid of not being accepted by the group if they don’t participate in substance use.

The pre-frontal cortex handles planning and impulse control. This part of the brain does not mature until about age 25. Therefore, substance experimenting can be highly consequential for those under 25.

Substance Misuse in Young Adults

Transitioning to adulthood is a challenging time for many. Young adulthood is a time of transition characterized by identity exploration, increased independence, and new choices and possibilities. As a result of this time of change, many young people experiment with substances.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “Youth transitioning into adulthood have some of the highest rates of alcohol and substance misuse.” For example, in 2018, 35% of young adults (18-25) reported binge drinking in the past month. Approximately 24% of young adults also reported using illicit drugs in the past month, with the most common being marijuana. 

This population of individuals is also more likely than any other age group to believe that substance use is not harmful. Only 37.5% of individuals ages 18-25 perceive binge drinking as a risk to their health, compared to 45.4% of people age 26 or older. Young adults are also less likely to believe they are at risk by smoking marijuana monthly or weekly. 

Experimentation Leads to Dependence and Addiction

Experimenting with drugs or alcohol, no matter how much and how frequent, can lead to substance dependence and addiction. Not many young people have the knowledge that these substances have a negative impact on their developing brains. After experiencing short periods of pleasure, they may have cognitive damage.

Drug or alcohol experimenting also contributes to other risky behaviors, such as underage driving, unprotected sex, and violence. Of great concern is that once young adults are open to experimenting with one type of drug, they may enter into the grey zone of illicit drugs that are floating in the community.

A variety of health problems may emerge after substance experimentation. These include sleep disorders, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Young adults who experiment with drugs or alcohol also have no way of telling how their bodies react to these substances. Without supervision, an overdose may happen.

Some people also develop seizures and respiratory distress that may lead to fatal consequences. In a way, experimenting often leads to uncontrollable substance abuse.

Substance Abuse and Trauma

Experimentation and substance abuse can lead to traumatic experiences. According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network’s publication “Making the Connection: Trauma and Substance Abuse,” “[S]ubstance use disorders precede the onset of trauma exposure.”

There is a direct link between substance use and risky behaviors. Due to behaviors individuals may engage in as a result of substance use, they can be exposed to trauma, including harm to themselves and witnessing harm to others.

For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “16% of young people aged 12 to 20 years reportedexternal icon drinking alcohol and 9% reported binge drinking in the past 30 days.” Of young people who drank alcohol, five percent reported driving under the influence, and 17% reported riding with a driver who had been drinking.

Driving under the influence can lead to severe injury and fatalities for those driving, passengers, and innocent drivers on the road. Being exposed to a drunk driving accident can lead to trauma, which can continue to worsen substance abuse problems.

Protecting Young Adults

Protecting young adults from substance abuse is crucial. According to the SAMHSA, factors that can help prevent substance abuse and addiction in young adults include:

  • Solid social bonds
  • Support from family
  • Social, emotional, behavioral, and moral competence
  • Self-efficacy
  • Spirituality
  • Recognition for positive behavior

For young adults who abuse substances, knowing that they have the ability to seek help is also crucial. When young adults understand that there is help out there and they are not alone in their struggles, they can move toward healing.

Young adults are more susceptible to substance experimentation which can lead to substance abuse and addiction. If you are struggling with substance abuse and addiction due to experimenting, help is available to you. The Guest House has a strong record of helping individuals who have used drugs or alcohol to achieve and maintain sobriety. Here, we have a group of experienced health professionals who specialize in treating trauma and related concerns, including substance abuse. Our treatment team will work with you to provide customized, efficient, and effective treatment methods that have been developed and applied in clinical settings. We provide individual, group, and family counseling so that our clients enjoy the best of healthy relationships. Call today at (855) 483-7800. Early intervention is key. Do not wait another day. Reach out to The Guest House today to learn more about our evidence-based treatment programs.