Addiction by Age Group: A Breakdown

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Addiction can happen at any stage of life.

Regardless of age, sex, or background, substance abuse disorders do not discriminate. There are, however, certain age groups at higher risk of developing addiction.

Let’s break down addiction by age group and the risks factors involved for each.


Between 2016 and 2022, drug use among 8th graders climbed more than 60 percent (1). And while the numbers aren’t as high as those reported in teens or young adults, they are among the highest group at risk for addiction.

That’s because the earlier a child is exposed to substances, the more likely they’ll become addicted (2). In fact, the majority of adults with substance use disorder began using drugs or alcohol during youth or teen years (3).

The research underscores the need for early substance use education, prevention, and intervention programs as early as adolescence— especially in rural areas like West Virginia where drug use has become an epidemic.


West Virginia teenagers are 5.43 percent more likely to have used drugs in the past month compared to the average teen (1). Many of them began experimenting as youths, or started with alcohol, cigarettes, and/or marijuana before moving on to opioids, heroin, and other, more harmful substances.

See also: Chance’s Story of Hope

Several factors increase the risk for teenage drug addiction, including:

  • An underdeveloped brain and judgment system
  • Peer pressure
  • Problems at home, school, or in other relationships
  • Higher rates of experimentation

Young Adults

Young adults ages 18 to 25 have the highest rates of addiction (2). Some carry drug use from adolescence and teen years with them into young adulthood— and many don’t address their addictions until middle age.

Because young adults are dealing with new stressors and life changes, several factors lend to drug use in this age bracket. Common ones include:

  • Peer pressure
  • A culture of partying
  • Newfound “freedom” after leaving home
  • Relationships and/or early marriage
  • Starting and/or maintaining a career
  • Raising children
  • Schooling
  • Debt

What begins as a “fun” activity to do with friends can easily spiral into full blown addiction. Soon, substances such as opioids can become a crutch to rely on when life becomes challenging— often with devastating consequences.

Middle-Aged Adults

While culture portrays drug use as a problem in younger ages, middle aged adulthood is not immune. In reality, substance abuse is one of the fastest growing problems among this age group in the nation (4).

But why? One of the leading causes is the increased availability of prescription medications. As people reach middle age, they become more prone to injuries requiring pain medication. And considering it takes only days to become addicted to opioids, it’s easy to see how quickly a substance use disorder can take root.

Another reason addiction is becoming increasingly common in middle age is misdiagnosed or unrecognized mental health disorders. Those with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues may not realize they need help and instead turn to substances to cope.


Nearly one million adults aged 65 and older live with a substance use disorder (5).

Thanks to “ageism,” substance abuse disorders among seniors are not as advertised as those in younger generations. Cultural perceptions that health problems in seniors are “less important” drastically impact quality-of-life standards among the elderly.

However, this age group deserves the same resources for addiction recovery as those younger. While our programming starts in West Virginia schools, GameChanger advocates for addiction education, prevention, and recovery at any age.

See also: 6 Signs You Could Benefit from Talk Therapy

Help for Addiction Exists at Any Age

Addiction can happen at any age— recovery can, too. If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction or another substance use disorder, it’s never too late to reach out for help.

Learn more about GameChanger.

Created in 2018, GameChanger is a student-powered movement with focus on substance misuse prevention among youths. We connect students, educators, and communities with education, training, coaching, and support services to prevent opioid and other drug use before it starts.

Learn more today.


  1. Drug Use Among Youth: Facts & Statistics. National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics. Accessed from:
  2. Correlation Between Age and Addiction. Midwest Detox Center. 21 December 2020. Accessed from:
  3. High-Risk Substance Use Among Youth. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 29 September 2022. Accessed from:
  4. The Rise of the Middle-Aged Addict. Sober College School of Addiction Studies. 22 December 2015. Accessed from:
  5. Substance Use in Older Adults DrugFacts. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Accessed from:
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