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Drug Abuse Among Young People in the US Research Paper

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Updated: Dec 15th, 2020

Substance misuse is one of the most significant problems in American society. Thousands of people have various health issues associated with drugs, which negatively affects the well-being of the nation. Young people are especially sensitive to this matter due to the nature of psychological development. Their values are easily manipulated by mass culture, making movies and music a powerful tool of promoting a certain type of behavior.

Moreover, socio-economic factors are also very significant regarding decisions of adolescents to engage in substance misuse. The combination of a surrounding and personal values creates an individual background that may predict the likeness of engagement in drug abuse, yet it is subject to changes, which can be used for developing solutions for the issue. The paper analyzes studies regarding some of the most widespread types of substances, as well as discusses the role of the rap culture in the growing number of young addicts in the U.S.


Drug abuse is a global issue, and the United States is one of the countries that seek to resolve it. Recent data reporting suggests that there are about 22 million people in the U.S. older than twelve years who are engaged in illicit drugs use (Yur’yev & Akerele, 2016). Currently, these substances are controlled by the government and fall under different classification systems. For instance, some drugs may be characterized as either medical or recreational according to the purpose of use. Thus, twenty-one states allow by law the trade of marijuana for people who have certain health conditions (Hasin et al., 2015).

However, there is a high risk of people buying it for recreational purposes. Prescription opioids form another group of substances that are officially allowed, yet non-medical use is one of the consistent issues in this field. Reports suggest that the misuse of this type of drugs is associated with an increasing rate of deaths in the U.S. over the past several decades and has now taken a form of an epidemic (Han, Compton, Jones, & Cai, 2015). There are debates on whether making certain substances legal or partially accessible encourages more people to try them.

However, decisions regarding drugs misuse are mainly guided by free will, and it is important to identify the driving factors that lead people to such behavior. For example, it is claimed that individuals learn from their life experience as well as follow model traits provided by popular culture (Acosta, 2017). Nowadays, substance misuse is often mentioned in movies and music, the latter especially associated with the hip-hop culture. While it becomes more popular among young people each year, it is crucial to change the glorifying tone surrounding the topic and provide truthful information about the risks carried by this type of behavior.

Literature Review

To better understand the essence of the drug abuse issue among young people in the U.S., it is important to identify the extent of the problem, including the current situation overview and the factors leading to it. In particular, it is crucial to understand how strongly a socio-demographic status is influencing an individual’s decision to adopt substance misuse. This section discusses articles regarding background characteristics of adolescents who have had experience with prescribed opioids, crack cocaine or marijuana. It is important to note that the data was collected by surveying and there are limitations associated with inaccuracy, incomplete population representation, incorrect or false answers, and other issues typical for this methodology.

Prescribed Opioids

Currently, several types of opioid-based medications can be prescribed to patients across the U.S. Han et al. mention that the number of deaths and emergency visits caused by overdose cases of these substances has increased dramatically since the end of the past century (2015). They have conducted a major study aiming to determine groups that are most vulnerable to this problem among people aged between 18 and 64. The research focused primarily on socio-demographic factors that may potentially influence the wellbeing of an individual.

The study was conducted based on the data collected from surveys. It consisted of answers from people questioned in 2003-2013 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (Han et al., 2015). Another source of information was the National Vital Statistics System, covering the question of deaths caused by medical opioids overdose. The results revealed that several demographic factors might be determining an individual’s choice to have a non-medical use of opioids.

For example, people who had such experience were also likely to possess a low level of education, having a high school diploma or less. Another risk factor was a low-paid job or the absence of thereof. Having no insurance or being covered by Medicaid was also a characteristic for drug abusers more than for people who never had such an experience. Finally, depressive mental states, nicotine, and other dependencies were among the background factors of non-medical opioids users more times than for individuals not engaged in the practice.

The study has revealed that socio-economic problems like the lack of a decent job or education may push people towards drug abuse. The findings are especially important for analyzing the situation among youth since this group is usually economically unstable and sometimes dependable on their older relatives. The case heavily relies on the overall state of the country’s wellbeing, and difficulties in social spheres may further develop the prescribed opioids epidemic.

Crack Cocaine

Crack cocaine is one of the most popular drugs among young people. According to statistics, there are approximately 1.4 million Americans who use it for recreation purposes (Yur’yev & Akerele, 2016). Its popularity is explained by the price that is lower than for other drugs like powder cocaine. The study by Yur’yev and Akerele (2016) is valuable for researching this topic since it covers all segments of the population. Similar to the article discussed above, the researchers tried to determine a demographic portrait of individuals consuming crack cocaine.

The findings for the study were comparable to those defined for non-medical opioid use. Thus, poor education and low-income level were named among the characteristics of people with a history of experience with crack cocaine (Yur’yev & Akerele, 2016). The absence of satisfaction with life also turned out to be one of the factors. At the same time, the researchers paid more attention to a family as a background element. The results showed that single or divorced people were more likely using crack cocaine than those who were married. Besides, men were accounted for more cases of this type of drug abuse than women. Another important finding was the absence of correlation between race and crack cocaine use.

The research supports the idea from the previous study about the importance of socio-economic factors regarding the issue. The accuracy of this assumption is supported by the logic that people who are happy among their family and friends and successful at work do not have time for destructive behavior. Unfortunately, young people lack some of the mentioned characteristics and possess a relatively large amount of free time which allows them to experiment with risky activities.


Nowadays, many people view marijuana as a substance that is even less harmful than alcohol, which is sold legally in most countries in the world. However, its use carries many risks, especially for young people. Some studies suggest that adolescents who engage in smoking cannabis suffer from “altered brain development, cognitive impairment, chronic bronchitis, and adverse mental health outcomes” (Taylor et al., 2017, p. 764).

Moreover, marijuana may serve as a gateway for heavier drugs in the future. The study by Taylor et al. (2017) revealed the importance of socio-demographic factors associated with the issue, as the population consisting of about 14,000 young people born in 1991-1992 was surveyed. Adolescents belonged to different backgrounds, which affected their use of cannabis.

Similar to the articles mentioned above, this study identified demographic elements that prevailed in the population that had experience with marijuana. For instance, poor housing condition like subsidized or rented apartments was associated with regular cannabis use by children in the future (Taylor et al., 2017). However, the researchers did not find a direct correlation between social wellbeing and the issue. There were differences in patterns between regular and occasional use of cannabis. Nevertheless, there was a strong connection between the former and the harmful behavior in the older age.

Being a much-discussed substance in the society, marijuana can possibly become legal for medical purposes in many states. Hasin et al. (2015) studied the correlation between the adoption of a law legalizing cannabis for medical purposes and the frequency of its use. It appeared that states which passed such legislation also had more marijuana users than those who did not. At the same time, there was no evidence of those numbers increasing over the following years. Thus, there does not seem to be a connection between legalizing cannabis and its medical use, yet the data for recreational purposes may differ.

The Role of Mass Culture

The ideas promoted through television and the Internet are especially powerful among young people. Unfortunately, modern mass culture in the U.S. often portrays alcohol and drug abuse as a positive trait. The article by Gabriela Acosta (2017) provides an extensive summary of the number of mentioning of those substances in pop music for the ten-year period starting from 2007. It appears that more than 20 percent of all Billboard’s Hot 100 year-end charts compositions included at least one mentioning of alcohol in various forms (Acosta, 2017). Since musicians often act as role models for young people, their lyrics may serve as a type of lifestyle propaganda.

Rap and hip-hop are the genres often associated with the extensive use of drug themes in lyrics. The analysis shows that they are accounted for more than 70 percent of substance mentioning (Acosta, 2017). At the same time, the trend seems to be changing in recent years. The article by Matt Gonzales (2017) discusses this development based on the studies conducted at different times. For example, ten years ago drug abuse was glamorized by rap singers, and nowadays many of them share opinions about the risks and harm of this practice. The movie industry is also following this trend, showing alternative lifestyle scenarios.

For example, Love Beats Rhymes (Hall & RZA, 2017) depicts a story of a young rapper Coco who wishes to record an album with a popular hip-hop label. Unlike similar stories, the movie does not raise the theme of drugs at all. On the contrary, it shows how a girl from a low-income family becomes successful by attending college and taking a poetry class, which eventually helps her to write better songs. Love Beats Rhymes is a great example for young people with a lower-class background, which are especially sensitive to drug abuse according to the discussed studies.


The issue of drug abuse is prevalent in U.S. society. Socio-demographic factors like education and income level strongly influence people’s choices regarding it. Young people are especially vulnerable to this situation, as they are additionally pressured by the mass culture with its positive portrayal of drugs misuse. However, the situation is currently changing, and there are examples of music movies that show social groups like rappers who do not engage in these harmful activities.


Acosta, G. (2017). . Web.

Gonzales, M. (2017). . Web.

Hall, P. (Producer), & RZA (Director). (2017). Love beats rhymes. United States: Codeblack Films.

Han, B., Compton, W. M., Jones, C. M., & Cai, R. (2015). Nonmedical prescription opioid use and use disorders among adults aged 18 through 64 years in the United States, 2000-2013. JAMA, 314(14), 1468-1478. Web.

Hasin, D. S., Wall, M., Keyes, K. M., Cerda, M., Schulenberg, J., O’Malley, P. M., … Feng, T. (2015). Medical marijuana laws and adolescent marijuana use in the USA from 1991 to 2014: Results from annual, repeated cross-sectional surveys. The Lancet Psychiatry, 2(7), 601-608. Web.

Taylor, M., Collin, S. M., Munafo, M. R., MacLeod, J., Hickman, M., & Heron, J. (2017). Patterns of cannabis use during adolescence and their association with harmful substance use behaviour: Findings from a UK birth cohort. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 71(8), 764-770. Web.

Yur’yev, A., & Akerele, E. (2016). Socio-demographic characteristics of individuals with history of crack cocaine use in the US general population. Community Mental Health Journal, 52(8), 1043-1046. Web.

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