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Nearly half of American young adults experience addiction, substance abuse or mental health issues, but few seek treatment, according to a recent report published in the December 2008 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

U.S. researchers recently analyzed data from more than 5,000 young adults aged 19 to 25, who took part in the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.

Researchers found that nearly 48 percent of the study participants met the criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder, but only 25 percent of those identified with disorders sought treatment.

Among those in college, alcohol abuse (20.4 percent) and personality disorders (17.7 percent) were the most common disorders. Young adults not in college were most frequently diagnosed with personality disorders (21.6 percent) and nicotine dependence (20.7 percent).

College students were less likely to use drugs, tobacco, or have bipolar disorder than the non-students; but college students' potential for alcohol abuse was much greater. Additionally, students were significantly less likely to receive treatment for drug or alcohol abuse or addiction.

"In view of the high prevalence and low rate of treatment of alcohol-use disorders in college students, greater efforts to implement screening and intervention programs on college and university campuses are warranted," wrote Dr. Carlos Blanco, of the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University, New York. "The centralized delivery of campus student health services might offer an advantageous structure for carrying out such screening and interventions."

The researchers also noted that a high overall rate of psychiatric disorders exists among young adults, who are at a vulnerable stage of development. This is not surprising since the average age of onset for many mental illnesses is seventeen.

"The vast majority of disorders in this population can be effectively treated with evidence-based psychosocial and pharmacological approaches," Blanco wrote. "Early treatment could reduce the persistence of these disorders and their associated functional impairment, loss of productivity and increased health-care costs. As these young people represent our nation's future, urgent action is needed to increase detection and treatment of psychiatric disorders among college students and their non-college-attending peers."

Something must change. Facts and information need to find their way to young people, especially those in college. They must learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health disorders and understand their seriousness. Young people must be encouraged to seek treatment, and must have access to cost-effective treatment options.

Consider the numbers---nearly 50% of a generation of Americans is affected. Only a small fraction receives treatment. Their future, our future, is at risk.

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