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The Inland Empire houses multiple demographics who are affected by drug usage with varying stressors, says Adley Dason, MD. As an addictionologist at Loma Linda University Health, he works with addicted individuals in the community and says he continues to see a rise in addiction in adolescent and young adult populations.

“Addiction doesn’t discriminate,” Dason says.

He says addiction is a disease usually developed in adolescence, and most people who use substances try it at a young age. According to the California Department of Public Health, San Bernardino County recorded 309 fentanyl-related overdose deaths in 2021, with 20-to-24-year-olds being the largest affected population. Dason says many patients at the Loma Linda University Behavioral Medicine Center seek help after recovering from an overdose.

“Our team is grateful that patients are seeking help and working toward sobriety voluntarily, but we are even more grateful that they are alive,” he says.

Dason believes that easier access to communication via social media reflects a changing world where younger populations can more easily access potent substances. Which highlights a disturbing trend with at risk adolescents.

“It’s hard for adults to understand how different the teen’s world is now. Parents, teachers, and mentors need to realize how interconnected they are with things we were never exposed to,” Dason says. “Teens, adults, and everyone needs to understand the severe consequences of potent substances.”

Reminder: Addiction is a disease, not a bad habit

Studies show that addiction ultimately changes the brain structure until it activates a reward response when indulging in addictive behavior. Dason says everyone’s reason for their addiction is different, and they usually use substances or alcohol as a pause button or momentary relief. Traumatic incidents from the past or stressors in day-to-day life may trigger an individual to engage in their addiction.

His goal in the outpatient program at the BMC is to stay connected with the patients, follow up, and make sure they stay in the system.

“This disease takes effort and persistence to treat, and I don’t want them to feel stigmatized or judged,” Dason says. “Community is so important for these patients, and we want them to know they’re not in isolation.”

The decision to begin treatment can be difficult. Learn more about Substance Use and Recovery Wellness programs at Loma Linda University Behavioral Health here.