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Though alcohol has been the prevalent substance of choice amongst the last four generations, there’s no denying that times have changed. While Millennials and Gen Zers learned from an early age that drug use and alcohol abuse is essentially “wrong”, drugs do not carry the same taboo they once did.

Unlike their Baby Boomer parents, a generation known for their stories of “free love” and even freer drugs, Millennials and Gen Zers have turned to drugs as a way to numb the anxiety associated with issues like global warming, student debt, and the future. They’re shifting away from the psychedelics of their parents’ generation and becoming addicted to other substances, many of which are much more readily accessible and potent.



As of 2019, nines states, as well as Washington D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana, and even more states now allow CBD products. However, the fight for legal weed continues. According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, 85% of Millennial and Gen Z voters ages 18 to 34 years old, said that they were in favor of legalizing marijuana, while only 44% of Baby Boomers support legalizing the drug. It seems the largest age group opposed to wholesale legalization efforts are the 65 and older crowd.

Despite the opposition from Boomers, it seems many Millennials and Gen Zers are making the switch from alcohol to marijuana as their recreational drug of choice, because of the drug’s effects and comparatively low-cost. In fact, the majority of the 55 MILLION recreational marijuana users in the United States are millennials, according to a 2017 Yahoo News poll.


Although it has been advertised as a tool to help adults kick their smoking habit, vaping nicotine and marijuana has become popular with Gen Z youth. Vaping means using an electronic cigarette, aka e-cigarette, or other vaping device. It is referred to as vaping because tiny puffs or clouds of vapor are produced when using the devices. E-cigarettes are battery-powered and deliver nicotine through a liquid, called “e-juice”. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the fact that the tobacco industry has marketed e-juice to kids by offering flavors like lucky charm, mermaid tears, and glazed donuts. Sweet flavors mask the harsh taste of tobacco, which can make it easier for kids to get hooked on nicotine.

One popular brand of e-cigarettes is JUUL. JUUL is becoming more prevalent with middle and high school students because of its compact size and the fact that it looks like a USB driver. When using a JUUL it is often referred to as JUULing. Marijuana vapes come in many shapes and sizes, with varying amounts of portability, strength, and vapor emitted. They are available in states where recreational and/or medical marijuana is legal.

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According to a 2018 VICE report, “the proportion of 16 to 24-year-olds using Class A drugs is now the highest it’s been for 12 years.” One of the more popular Class A drugs amongst teens and young adults is cocaine, or coke. In the last five years, coke use amongst that age group has doubled. Despite the fact that Gen Z is often characterized as ambitious and woke, they are also generally risk takers, constantly on the hunt for bigger thrills and highs.

Recreational cocaine use is also extremely common amongst Gen Zers and Millennials who frequent music festivals and/or raves. Its confidence-inducing properties and ability to make you drink for longer are a couple of reasons why users choose to imbibe, however as “tolerance to the drug increases, it becomes necessary to take greater and greater quantities to get the same high” (Drug Free World). Coke, much like ecstasy, is most often used to enhance the party experience, but the long term effects might not be worth the short-lived high.


MDMA, more commonly known as “ecstasy” or “molly”, gained popularity amongst rave culture in the 1990’s, because of its euphoric effects. When taken correctly, most often in pill tablet form, called a “hit”, ecstasy can increase energy and make people feel more sociable. Common side effects during during use include dry mouth, lack of appetite, and jaw-clenching (which is why most users will chew gum while on ecstasy). Although ecstasy overdoses are uncommon, there are serious effects associated with the drug, including heart failure, seizures, and incidents involving self-harm that have led to hospitalization or even death.

There is some evidence that suggests heavy, regular use of ecstasy can cause damage to some parts of the brain and lead to depression, however in a recent study on the drug’s possible medicinal use in post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol de-addiction, results showed that MDMA can increase feelings of empathy among habitual users compared to users of other drugs.


A WebMD study from 2018 found that in the past two decades, opioid overdose death rates among U.S. kids and teens have tripled. The highest risk of opioid overdose or poisoning is among older teens, who account for 88% of those who died during the time of the study. Opioids are a type of narcotic pain medication, often prescribed by a doctor, to trick the brain into believing it’s no longer in pain. However, they can be highly addictive.

Percocet is perhaps the most well-known painkiller that’s part of the opioid “family” of drugs. Like any medicine, the value of Percocet depends upon how its applied and used. They may find pills in the family medicine cabinet or take drugs that have been prescribed for an injury. Beyond that, kids like to experiment and take risks, so it’s very common to develop an opioid addiction through basic experimentation.


Mushrooms, most commonly referred to as “shrooms”, are a psychedelic drug with effects similar to those of LSD. In a 2017 Global Drug Survey, researchers found that mushrooms are in fact the safest of all the drugs people take recreationally. When compared to MDMA, cocaine, and even alcohol, it seems that while on mushrooms, people are less likely to harm themselves or others which in turn accounts for less trips to emergency rooms and treatment centers.

Pair that with Millennials‘ and Gen Zers’ obsession with latest Insta-health craze and it should come as no surprise that the mushroom market – including magic mushrooms and other fungi – is expected to exceed $50 billion in the next six years. As with any drug, there are definitely risks associated with taking shrooms, most notably, having a “bad trip”. Though shrooms are still an illegal drug, listed as a Schedule I substance in the United States, movements in both Colorado and Oregon are gaining momentum for the legalization and consumption of mushrooms.

Getting & Being High

Drug culture, like with any culture, is made up of various sub-culture, so it only makes sense that each one would develop its own language. There are many terms that describe the acts of getting and being high, most of which are specific to the type of substances being used. Most words convey the same meaning: being under the influence of a one (or more) substances.

Millennials are coming of age as “the most stressed generation,” because of which, many are turning to self-medicating with recreational drugs. However, the “high” symptoms one might experience while under the influence differ from one drug to the next, as well as from one person to the next, making it incredibly difficult to safely regulate the quantity of drugs one should ingest.

Miscellaneous Drugs & Slang

Marijuana might be legal in nine U.S. states and recreational pills tend to be fairly accessible, however, Millennials and Gen Zers are still finding plenty of opportunities to acquire stronger, illegal substances, often through a friend, a friend-of-a-friend. In fact, buying drugs today has been said to become as easy as “buying ice cream”.

Setting aside accessibility and affordability, there are still many well-known health risks associated with taking drugs, not to mention the fact that both the buying and selling of most of them is in fact, illegal.

Alcohol & Drinking Terms

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) has been studying the drug habits of Americans for decades and it seems that not much has changed when it comes to alcohol use. The stats from a recent NSDUH study, observing drug habits of Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials found that for all three generations, alcohol tops the charts as the most commonly used substance (followed by marijuana). Though Generation Z is experimenting more with alternative highs, specifically shrooms and recreational pills, 58% of of twelfth graders in 2018, admitted to experimenting with alcohol in their lifetime. The same study found that nearly 24% of eighth graders had also tried alcohol at some point in their lives.

Alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. and almost 6% of all global deaths are drinking related. Many teenagers are at risk of developing an abuse problem due to the accessibility of the substance along with societal pressure.



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