Pin It
Illustration Callum Abbott

More young people are using drugs to ‘escape problems’ than have fun

New research from youth charity The Mix has found that there’s been a 75 per cent increase in the number of young people who said they used drugs for escapism this year

New research from youth charity The Mix has shown that there has been a 50 per cent increase in the number of young people taking drugs since 2021. This equates to one in three 16 to 25-year-olds using drugs in the past year.

While this might sound unsurprising due to relaxing Covid restrictions, according to The Mix, fewer young people are using substances to have fun. Instead, one in five reportedly use substances to “escape problems in their lives” – a 75 per cent increase in the number of young people who said they used drugs for escapism this time last year.

A similar number claimed to use drugs in order to help them cope with a mental health issue or emotional distress. 12 per cent also reported using antidepressants outside of a prescription over the past 12 months.

Holly Turner, Campaigns & Communications Manager at The Mix, explains further. “We did expect to see an increase in substance use over the past 12 months, with young people spending more time with friends as lockdown ended and going out to parties, clubs and festivals,” she tells Dazed. “However, what we didn’t expect was the sharp 75 per cent increase in young people using drugs not to have fun, but to escape problems in their lives and to help them cope with their mental health.”

“As well as dealing with the long-term impact of the pandemic and the adjustment of coming back into the world again, young people are facing an enormous amount of pressure from issues that affect their daily lives,” she continues. “The cost-of-living crisis means many young people are worried about being able to pay their bills and feed themselves and are uncertain about their futures. The political upheaval in the UK as well as global issues such as climate change and war are also causing a massive amount of anxiety and uncertainty.”

“As a result, we are seeing a generation of young people who are facing huge challenges with their mental health and are using drugs as a way to cope with this and escape from their problems,” she surmises.

The research also suggests that addictions among young people are on the rise. The proportion of young users taking substances as a habit almost trebled from 5 per cent in 2021 to 14 per cent this year. Additionally, last year, 16 per cent of young people said they used drugs at least once a week, compared with 23 per cent this year.

Out of all the illegal drugs included in the survey, amphetamine users were the most likely to say that they used substances because it was a habit; almost a third of young people taking amphetamines said that they used drugs on a daily basis.

Sadly, only a quarter of young people who had experienced challenges with substance use had accessed any support or services. According to The Mix, this means that more than 2.2 million young people who had experienced challenges in relation to drugs did not access any support.

“Over two in five young people believe that there is not enough support available to help young people with concerns about drug or alcohol use and this needs to change,” Turner says. “We must provide young people with anonymous support for substance use challenges and raise awareness of the existing services that young people can turn to, such as The Mix's free and confidential helpline and organisations such as the Amy Winehouse Foundation, Release and The Loop.” 

“Another issue we need to address is the stigma attached to substance use that often prevents young people from reaching out for support,” she continues. “We need to stop using derogatory language that stigmatises substance users and instead encourage open and honest conversations about drug and alcohol use which provide young people with all the information they need to make informed decisions and let them know that it's OK to talk about the challenges they are facing.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, then you can contact The Mix for free, confidential support.