Young people are using drugs as escapism more than ever before

A new report suggests the kids aren’t alright.

Drug collage depicting pills, a marijuana leaf, mushrooms, and two partial faces with tongues sticki...
Maxine McCrann

It turns out the kids aren’t alright. According to a new report from UK youth charity The Mix, since 2021, there has been a 50% increase in drug use among young people (ages 16-25) and a 75% increase in using drugs — including ketamine, cannabis, and methadone — as a form of escapism.

The report suggests the COVID-19 pandemic may be responsible for at least some of this increase. They’re keen to make up for time lost to years of quarantine, and embrace pleasure with friends, now that restrictions have been lifted. But they’re also emotionally burnt out, not just because of the lack of social interaction, but also because of the issues impacting people of all ages, like the real-time effects of the climate crisis and inflation. In fact, recent research from The Prince’s Trust NatWest Youth Index has found that “young people’s overall happiness and confidence has hit [the] lowest point in the 13-year history of [this] survey.”

“​​I can’t really control my emotions so sometimes when I’m angry or sad I just feel the need to do something to numb it for a while,” Sasha, a 20-year-old who uses ketamine as a form of escapism, told Vice for a report on The Mix’s new findings. “Or, after I’ve had a hard time I’ll go out that weekend and get wrecked. The ability to escape from the bad stuff becomes extremely addictive.”

While the stats regarding the increase in people’s apparent need to escape problems may be concerning, it’s also worth noting how certain drugs — when properly administered — can be used for good: A study in Pain Medicine found that 76% of chronic pain patients experienced complete pain relief after receiving IV ketamine infusions. LSD, another hallucinogen, has also been tested in individuals with life-threatening illnesses and found to reduce anxiety when used as an aid during psychotherapy. And mushrooms have been found to help people quit drinking, according to an August 2022 study in JAMA Psychiatry.

As someone who deals with anxiety and regular bouts of depression, I know how tempting the desire to numb intrusive thoughts by way of drugs and alcohol can be. But what’s saved me from going overboard is talking about it and connecting with others who just get it. Young people need to feel supported. They need community. We all do — no matter who we are or where we come from.

If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).