Substance abuse — and particularly alcoholism — is a growing concern among young adults globally. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in 2021, over 29% of young adults in the United States struggled with binge drinking in the last month. These are figures that continue to increase year over year. Understanding the signs of alcohol abuse and how to deal with them could mean the difference between normal teen experimentation and a lifelong affliction.
Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder
Alcohol use disorder, commonly referred to as alcoholism, comes in many forms. Generally, it is described as an inability to manage drinking habits — despite the negative effects of the use. It's not about the occasional weekend party or a glass of wine with dinner. According to the National Institute for Health, it is a “medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.”
For young adults, the transition into adulthood often involves new freedoms and responsibilities. This period of life may also bring about a heightened curiosity towards substances, like alcohol. While it's not unusual for young adults to experiment, it's crucial to understand when experimentation crosses over into dependence.
Signs of Alcoholism in Young Adults
How do we differentiate between “normal” young adult drinking habits and the early signs of alcoholism? Here's what to look out for:
These are often the first red flags. You might notice a lack of interest in activities the person previously enjoyed, or a decline in academic or work performance. There might be an increased need for privacy, and secretive behavior regarding their drinking.
Physical Health Decline
Alcohol abuse can lead to noticeable changes in physical appearance and health. Look out for weight loss, a decrease in personal hygiene, or unusual sleeping patterns. More severe signs include nausea, vomiting, or trembling hands.
Alcoholism can also impact a person's mental health. The person may seem more anxious, depressed, or exhibit mood swings. They may also show signs of memory loss or blackouts.
Increased Tolerance and Dependence
If a young adult is consuming more alcohol over time in order to feel the same effects, or if they experience withdrawal symptoms (like shaking, sweating, or nausea) without alcohol, these are strong signs of developing alcohol use disorder.
If relationships with family, friends, or coworkers are being negatively affected due to their drinking, it might be a sign of an underlying issue.
It's important to note that these warning signs can also point to other problems, such as drug abuse or mental health challenges. Each individual is unique, and so is their relationship with alcohol. However, if you observe several of these signs concurrently, it's worth voicing your concerns.
Alcohol Addiction Treatment
Supporting a loved one struggling with alcoholism can feel overwhelming. The first step is to approach them with compassion and understanding. It's essential not to place blame; rather, express your concerns about their well-being.
There are many treatment options for alcoholism, and they are tailored to each individual's needs. Depending on the severity of your child's alcoholism, they may need detoxification, behavioral therapies, medications, or mutual-support groups. Often, a residential treatment setting will provide all of the above while keeping them in a safe, supportive environment.
Alcoholism is a serious, yet treatable condition. If you suspect a young adult in your life may be struggling with alcoholism, don't hesitate to reach out for professional help. Remember, the earlier an issue is identified, the more effective treatment can be.
Alcoholism doesn't have to define a person's life. With the right support and intervention, young adults can regain control and build a better, happier future.