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Young Women & Substance Abuse: The Truth About the Statistics

Wilmington, NC SUD Stats

The landscape of modern life for young women in our society is constantly changing. Presented with a multitude of challenges trying to navigate this terrain, substance abuse is a fast rising obstacle. In this blog, we will uncover the statistics around the issue of young women and substance abuse. Addressing this problem is urgent, as the numbers paint a sobering picture. 


Prevalence of Substance Abuse Among Young Women


Alcohol Abuse: In 2020, 17% of women aged 18-25 reported an alcohol use disorder and 32% of young women in high-school reported drinking alcohol on a regular basis. Abusing alcohol at this age can lead to academic failure, trouble with relationships, legal problems, and sets the stage for female alcoholism in the future. 


Prescription Drug Misuse: According to SAMHSA, 5% of young women aged 18-25 abuse prescription drugs such as opioids and benzodiazepines. While the number may seem low, a report coming out of John Hopkins reports a staggering 60% of non-medical Adderall usage was happening amongst those aged 18-25. Young women take stimulants to help with productivity, especially with school work, as well as to be more social and curb the appetite. Long-term stimulant use can result in psychosis. Using stimulants for productivity and benzodiazepines for sleep can create a dangerous cycle of abuse, addiction and mental health complications. 


Illicit Drug Use: 35% of young women in grade 12 have used an illicit drug in the past year. While marijuana was the most commonly used narcotic, the study found usage increases across the board for all illicit drugs in this age group. 


The Risk Factors


While the statistics around female substance abuse may be alarming, it is the underlying risk factors that contribute to substance abuse that need to be addressed. They include: 


Mental Health: Facing anxiety, depression, higher rates of trauma, and societal pressures, young women are more likely than young men to turn to substances as a coping mechanism. Over two-thirds of young adult women with a substance abuse issue also have a co-occurring mental health diagnosis. 


Peer Pressure: While peer pressure is a well-known phenomenon, it can be an especially significant instigator of substance abuse for young women. 


Socioeconomic Status: Substance abuse patterns can be influenced by economic disparities. Those young women from lower-socioeconomic backgrounds face unique challenges and stressors leading to a higher vulnerability to substance abuse. 


Access to Prescription Drugs: An emerging trend amongst substance abuse in younger adults is easy, at home access to medications prescribed to family members. Leaving narcotic medications where they are easily accessible is dangerous and can begin a journey into substance abuse. 

Addressing the Issue


Education: Working with young women to teach them the real-world risks and complications of substance abuse can be a great deterrent.


Mental Health Services: Start the conversation about mental health before symptoms present. Being proactive about the potential mental health complications that can arise during young adulthood is crucial to giving a voice to those who feel voiceless and turn to drugs. 


Supportive Communities: The creation of supportive environments and groups where young women feel safe discussing their challenges and seeking help. Cultivating communities of support and accountability. 


Family Involvement: Encourage open communication within families to deter the misuse of prescription drugs and provide a strong support network. Families should seek to listen and empathize rather than lecture and punish. 



The numbers around substance abuse among young women are worrisome but they also offer a jumping off point for meaningful discussion and change. Acknowledging the issue and understanding how and why it’s happening, we can begin to work to prevent further substance abuse and provide the support and treatment necessary for positive growth and development. 


If you know a young adult woman who is struggling with substance abuse or mental health, call Momentum Recovery today. Our women’s program, The Cover, is tailored to treating young women and meeting their specific needs. Let us help - you are not alone.