Earlier this week we shared a blog overviewing societal issues that can negatively impact the mental health of younger adults and contribute to substance use as a coping mechanism.

Now we’re narrowing it down to a local perspective of what is being seen in our community when it comes to young adults and substance use with insight provided by one of our young adult program directors. Take a listen.

[00:00:01] We see a lot of teenage experimentation with alcohol and marijuana, but we also have those who started that and have progressed to harder drugs such as pills, because medications such as Xanax, Adderall, and opiates can be misused. We urge anyone who might have these substances to store them responsibly. We also see other substances such as cocaine, ketamine, and hallucinogens. The idea that only drug addicts overdose is antiquated and false because of Fentanyl’s presence in so many substances. Now the line is blurred with teenage innocent self-exploration and overdose substance use and death. Although the demographics and struggles of young adults that make up our group differ, we have noticed that there are typically three main categories that people can fall into. Those whose parents make them come after they have gotten into trouble or are displaying high-risk behavior. Those who have been referred to us by a therapist, guidance counselor, or treatment aftercare planner. And those who were made to come by their parents in the past but have built a support network and friendships within the group. Some factors that seem to contribute to young adults experimenting with substances include pressure with school family issues past or current trauma and mental health support or lack thereof. We see a lot of people who simply haven’t had access to learning proper coping skills. We also see those who feel isolated by their struggles, whether they feel their friends and family can’t relate, are ignorant or in denial of the reality of substance use, or perhaps they feel that they have gone too far.

[00:01:42] Isolation is absolutely a theme across the board. Every age demographic. Et cetera. The conversations around mental health and sobriety have become less taboo, even trendy. As these conversations and ideas become more mainstream, it is easier for people to share their experiences, strengths, and hopes. Engaging people in these conversations could make a difference in someone seeking help and support and recognizing problem behaviors within themselves. Issues with substances typically present as a coping mechanism. Seldom do I meet someone who is seeking help with their behaviors and doesn’t struggle with mental health issues. We see a lot of young adults who are learning to cope with depression, anxiety, and ADHD. With depression, they might be apathetic or disengaged. Anxiety can present physically with fidgeting and the inability to sit still. We can pick up on anxiety through sharing and speech or lack thereof. Fidgeting may also be a sign of ADHD. In addition to impulsivity, excessive talking and switching between topics and problems. Focusing. Risk factors that may cause a young adult to be vulnerable to experimenting with substances include turmoil at school or home. Past or current trauma. Confusion or Unacceptance of gender and sexual identity. Isolation and lack of coping skills. Social dynamics and peer pressure are an unfortunate and undeniable part of life. Even as an adult, it can be daunting to socialize.

[00:03:22] Adding recovery into the mix can make it even more challenging. We live in a technological age. Thus, we are constantly confronted with media displaying alcohol, partying, and good times. These displays can be extremely myopic, triggering the feeling of missing out, especially the sentiment of missing a fun youth. When you factor in the stereotypical peer pressure and dynamics that already existed before this inundation of technology, it can be exhausting for young adults to navigate sobriety and youth. I could go on and on about the implications of technology on malleable and vulnerable minds. Not only does it create a hostile environment of comparison and showmanship, but it also perpetuates isolation. It heightens attention deficit symptoms, mimics the dopamine rush of drugs, and can be addictive, interferes with sleep, impairs brain development, and hinders our ability to connect. There is more access to not only procuring drugs but also finding tips on the best ways to use them. However, as someone who believes firmly that things are not black and white, I must admit that I have found solace and shared stories of the lows of going through withdrawals, short and long-term effects of using, and successes and sobriety. With this being said, it can be harder to decipher without the tools, knowledge, and coping skills to fact-check and process information and the way it makes us feel. When one is resistant to seeking help, I found it most useful to meet them where they are.

[00:04:55] Oftentimes times the first step is ensuring they feel heard. As someone who is currently in recovery and has had multiple attempts from age 15 to 25 to get sober, being able to relate to being a young adult with substance misuse issues is invaluable. However, the tools I’ve learned through smart recovery and motivational interviewing have taught me to not take their words and actions personally and how to decipher the meaning behind resistance, denial, and emotions. At WakeUp on Thursdays at 7:00, something special to WakeUp Carolina happens in our Mount Pleasant office. We operate a process group-style young adult peer support group for high school freshmen to college seniors. Although that is a wide age range, we can connect the bond because of shared issues with substance use and mental health struggles. A typical group starts with a check in an introduction for any new members. If there is a check-in that touches on a topic that resonates within the group, we will expand on that or move into a topic. For example, if someone were to share that, they were unsure if they really had an issue with substances, we may dive into the topic of denial and how it influences our thinking. After sharing, we check out and see if anyone has anything pressing they’d like to get help or feedback with before group ends. Typically, we sit and continue talking after the meeting until everyone has left or been picked up.

[00:06:26] I think this speaks to the environment we strive to create that is not only built on support and guidance but also friendship and connection. This group not only gives us time to talk through topics and themes of substance misuse, but it also creates an atmosphere of trust where people can open up if they are experiencing any sort of crisis, whether it be in school relationships, family struggles, anything that might drive them to seek relief through using The hope is always that they feel safe enough to come to me, the facilitator or their peers, one on one if they need guidance. Our goal is to provide not only support but tangible solutions for our members to leave feeling motivated about solving the problems they are faced with. We strive to create an environment that is not only safe and welcoming but solution-oriented and empowering. I have recently witnessed a profound growth within one of our members. Their issues with substance misuse and mental health affected every facet of their being. Their schooling, family relationships, and lifestyle. It has been extremely special witnessing them start to gain meaning, learn coping skills, and lean into community. Not only is this life-changing for them and their family, but it also affects the tone of our groups and conversations. It gives hope to resistant members or those who are not as far along on their journey.

[00:07:48] When I think of the future of recovery programs and recovery support, I think of education and options. I think of community compassion and patience. I think of empowering not only my peers in recovery, but their family and allies, too. As we’ve seen, it truly takes a village, and when we spread education and resources, we broaden the conversation, creating opportunities to impact those without knowledge or resources. As we continue to learn about the struggles and the true dangers of substances in our communities, we will continue to hold space for those impacted in whatever way possible. I also envision a future where we don’t have to subscribe to one pathway. I think that there are beneficial aspects to all the programs I’ve encountered. Smart Recovery, which helps us understand our thinking objectively. Recovery Dharma, which teaches compassion and understanding and the truth of suffering. AA, which shows us the power of community at an age where one might feel the need to experiment. It is our hope that we provide healthy outlets for them to do so. At WakeUp. We believe substance use impacts the entire family system. We encourage family support by offering services for everyone. We have our Mother’s Gathering, Dad2Dad, and a virtual sibling support group. By having everyone engaged and educated, we can empower the entire family to find the solutions that will help their loved one.

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