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Depressed Young Adults Prone to Substance Abuse

Young person smokingTeens and young adults who suffer from depression are at a higher risk of initiating substance use including cigarette smoking and utilization of alcohol or illicit drugs.

The new report, based on the largest national survey on substance use and health, demonstrates the significant relationship between mental health and substance use.

Findings indicate young adults often begin smoking within a year of their depression diagnosis. Furthermore, the incidence of depression among young adults was found to be 9.4 percent of people aged 18 to 25, or approximately 3 million young adults in the United States per year.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), the source for this report, defines a major depressive episode as a period of two weeks or longer during which there is depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure and the presence of at least four other symptoms that reflect a change in functioning.

These include problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration and self-image. This definition is consistent with the one used by the American Psychiatric Association.

Terry Cline, Ph.D., administrator for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) comments,

“This study clearly reveals that too often people turn to cigarettes or other substances to try to deal with depression, creating a double jeopardy for their health and well-being.”

Among the reports notable findings were that young adults experiencing major depressive episodes within the past year were:

    • Approximately 60 percent more likely to have initiated cigarette use than those in their age group who had not experienced depression in the past year (12.7 versus 7.8 percent, respectively).

    • Approximately 35 percent more likely to have initiated alcohol use than those in their age group who had not experienced depression in the past year (33.7 versus 24.8 percent).

    • Twice as likely to have initiated use of an illicit drug as those in their age group who had not experienced depression in the past year (12.0 versus 5.8 percent).

    • Twice as likely to start abusing pain relief medication than were their contemporaries who had not experienced recent depression (7.1 versus 2.8 percent).

The report is also notable because of the size of the database — nearly 135,000 interviews with persons aged 12 or older, including almost 45,000 young adults – and it was conducted during the course of the 2005 and 2006 NSDUH surveys. This database is one of the largest and most detailed of its kind.

The full report, including detailed information on demographic groups and types of substance abuse, is available on the Web at

Source: Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) National Advisory Council

Depressed Young Adults Prone to Substance Abuse

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Depressed Young Adults Prone to Substance Abuse. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 17, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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