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Young Adults and Alcohol Abuse

When young people abuse alcohol, great harm can ensue, both in the long and short term. Unfortunately, young adults who abuse alcohol not only cause harm to themselves, but the likelihood of harm to spilling over to every other aspect of their lives is very high.

Of all addictions and dependencies treated in the United States, alcohol abuse accounts for more than half of cases: that is more than the numbers attributable to crack, heroin, marijuana, crystal meth, prescription medications and addictions to all other substances combined.

Alcohol Abuse Statistics

Though overall numbers have declined over the past twenty years, the statistics are still quite alarming:

  • 1 in every 14 people in the US have an alcohol abuse problem
  • More than 3M teenagers under the age of 17 have an alcohol abuse problem
  • Those who start drinking before they reach the age of 15 are 2x as likely to abuse, and 4x more likely to become an alcoholic
  • 62% of high school seniors have been drunk at least once
  • 31% are regular users or binge drinkers
  • 41% of automobile fatalities involve drinking, and teen drivers are at greatest risk
  • 20% of suicide victims are alcoholics
  • Alcohol is a factor in all three leading causes of death in young adults: accidents, homicide, and suicide
  • More than 90% of addicts and alcoholics began drinking or using before the age of 18
  • Teens that begin drinking before the age of 15 are 4x more likely to become addicted than those who don’t start until they are 21

Additionally, young adults who abuse alcohol are more likely to abuse other drugs or substances and engage in risky behavior, such as promiscuity or criminal activity. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and may give some young adults the impetus to walk a dangerous path, resulting in a dependence on alcohol, a higher risk of teen pregnancy, suicide, or developing HIV.

The Endless Cycle

It’s a vicious cycle that never stops. Teenage drinking that continues into adulthood snowballs into problem drinking and alcoholism, resulting in illness, heartbreak, and lifelong dysfunction that is self-perpetuating.

We just can’t ignore the fact that children of alcoholics often grow up to develop the same disease. If the cycle isn’t broken, there is a potential for this alarming trend to continue in perpetuity.

Why Kids Drink

While every child is different, each facing different challenges in their day-to-day life, there could be any number of reasons why they may choose to abuse alcohol. These include:

  • Peer pressure
  • Loneliness or feeling isolated
  • To overcome shyness, gain confidence, or to “fit in”
  • Family dysfunction
  • Alcohol acceptance within the family
  • Feelings that they are not supported at home
  • Social acceptance: feeling that alcohol is accepted as a societal norm
  • Responding to alcohol advertising

Interestingly enough, the reasons teens start to drink are the same or similar to reasons stated by adults. This is interesting in itself, as perhaps it represents a trend that can be reversed with nurturing, support, and appropriate therapies if initiated earlier in life.

Alcohol Abuse Usually Starts at Home

It could be that one parent (or both) is an alcoholic. This sets a certain standard of behavior, and oddly enough, even if this behavior is upsetting to a child – such as would be the case if it is accompanied by physical abuse – this does not represent a deterrent. Instead, it establishes alcoholism as a norm, and as we all know, children are likely to imitate their parents in just about every way. They become used to the status quo of drinking and abuse, and will imitate the behavior as soon as they are able to make decisions for themselves. Unless adult intervention is present, there is a great likelihood of the child perpetuating this modus operandi.

Teens who drink and over-indulge are much more likely to become adults who do the same. Most are exposed to alcohol abuse through their peers, either at private parties, or even in their own homes. Some parents even purchase alcohol for their children, thinking that if they are able to monitor alcohol use under their own roof then it’s “okay”.

While it’s true that young people are less likely to drink to excess when the alcohol is coming from their parents, there is still a great deal of harm associated with alcohol use in teens and young adults, both in the short and in the long-term.

Drinking in Early Adulthood Causes Chronic and Permanent Damage

There are two parts of the brain that are particularly sensitive to the damaging effects of alcohol:

  1. The hippocampus, which is responsible for memory and learning
  2. The prefrontal lobe, which is responsible for decision making, planning and impulse control

This type of brain damage represents the long-term effects of alcohol abuse. The short-term effects, on the other hand, result from a general slowing of brain function, causing outwardly noticeable symptoms such as slurred speech, confusion, poor coordination, slower response, impaired vision, and sleep disruption.

It doesn’t help that the younger a person is, the less they seem to be affected by the adverse after-effects of alcohol indulgence (aka a hangover), which may lead to repeated abuse over time as there is little to deter them, at least in a physical sense.

The Unfortunate Consequences of Alcohol Abuse in Young Adults

Alcohol abuse is also responsible for a great deal of risky behavior, which can lead to bigger problems down the road. This can include sexual promiscuity, resulting in STDs, pregnancy, and social unacceptance, criminal activity, and lowered inhibitions that can lead to dangerous and often life-threatening behavior.

In some cases, a young adult’s alcohol abuse can lead to them being kicked out of the house and ejected from social circles. This, in turn, can lead them down some very dark roads and may result in desperate acts such as robbery, prostitution or theft to support their drinking. Once the young adult has lost the support of their family and friends and has summarily lost all respect for themselves and what they hope to accomplish, there is little hope left.

A young adult who abuses alcohol is less likely to be able to hold down a job and become financially independent. Many will end up homeless or on welfare and will continue to battle physiological and mental health issues their entire life. They will be in a higher risk group for certain chronic (and often fatal) secondary diseases as well, such as cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer, HIV, chronic infection, hepatitis C, and more.

Some of the brain damage that can result from alcohol abuse in young adults includes:

  • Damaged nerve tissue, leading to attention span deficit in boys and an inability to process visual information in girls
  • Memory and logical thinking can be permanently impaired
  • Impaired spatial functioning
  • Inability to focus on anything for a prolonged period of time
  • Difficulty in processing verbal information

The really alarming thing is that this kind of damage can occur with only a moderate amount of binge drinking. Taken in this context, a few bad decisions can lead to a lifetime of impaired brain function, spoiling a child’s long-term potential and casting a long shadow over their dreams.

On the other hand, young adults and teens are less likely to start drinking if:

  • They feel accepted and supported at home
  • They are committed to their academic studies
  • They are physically active in sports or engaged in fitness activities
  • They are actively involved in artistic pursuits or hobbies
  • They are encouraged by family and teachers to explore and follow their dreams
  • They are not exposed to alcoholism or binge-drinking behavior at home
  • They are not exposed to violence at home

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Reaches Epidemic Levels

Another alarming trend is in relation to FASD, also known as fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. FAS is a brain disorder that is caused by alcohol abuse by the mother while she is carrying a child in utero. The degree and severity of FAS is governed by the stage of development the fetus has reached when the abuse occurs and can be characterized by both physical and brain function abnormalities.

It is thought that the current levels of FASD in America could be as high as 2% - 5% of the entire population. Additionally, we are coming to a greater realization that a very high proportion of the prison population is on the FAS spectrum at some level.

FASD causes irreparable damage to the brain in utero, which leads to various presentations of illness and intellectual deformities. People with FAS can exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Facial deformities
  • Small head size
  • Low body weight
  • Lack of coordination
  • Hyperactivity
  • Attention deficit
  • Poor memory function
  • Learning disabilities
  • Speech delays
  • Language delays
  • Low IQ or intellectual disability
  • Lack of judgment
  • Poor reasoning
  • Sleep problems, often starting at birth
  • Vision problems
  • Hearing problems
  • Propensity to chronic heart, kidney or bone disease

As you can understand, this is concerning trend. Add to that the fact that it only takes one episode of binge drinking during pregnancy for FAS to establish itself.

Children with FAS are often (but not always) a product of teenage pregnancy. Perhaps addressing the underlying issues surrounding early alcohol abuse may change this metric in the future. For now, we should hope to prevent alcohol abuse from becoming a lifelong trend, and give our children the support and encouragement they need to live normal, happy lives, unaffected by the ravages of alcohol and alcoholism.

Peaks Recovery Centers: Long-Term Drug and Alcohol Rehab and Recovery in Colorado

If you or your child is in danger of succumbing to alcohol or drug addictions, Peaks Recovery Centers can help. We are dedicated to helping young people reclaim their spark through age-specific, gender-specific treatment. Call today to find out more.