Skip to Main Content

Alcohol & Young Adults – Drug Abuse

Updated 27 October 2022 Clinically Reviewed by Sarah Fletcher, LPC, LACWritten by Deborah Quinn
Alcohol and youth

Young Adults and Alcohol

The young adult years are a great time to be alive. Your whole life is ahead of you, you’re gaining your personal independence and you’re making a lot of exciting changes in life.

But unfortunately, young adulthood is also a time when many people develop problems with alcohol. Maybe you’ve recently thought to yourself that you’re drinking too much – or maybe others have expressed their concern.

Maybe alcohol has started to affect your job, your education, or your relationships. Maybe it’s gotten you into legal trouble. Maybe you know you need to reduce your alcohol consumption, but you feel like you just can’t.

If an alcohol habit is affecting your life, you need to know that there’s hope. With treatment, you can take your life back and live the healthy, successful life you were meant to live.

How are Young Adults Drinking?

A man pointing at highlighted "alcohol to cope?" text
ya alcohol stats

Why Socially Normalized Drinking is Dangerous for Young People

To say drinking is a social norm for young adults is an understatement. Despite its obvious risks to people in this developmental stage, alcohol consumption continues to play a central role in young adult social life.

Even binge drinking – a highly dangerous behavior – is often seen as acceptable, perhaps because this transitional period of life usually involves fewer responsibilities than adulthood, and therefore seemingly less serious consequences.

Drinking is often encouraged for young adults as a rite of passage (think college keg stands and 21st birthday parties). And because drinking is such a factor in many young people’s social identity, it can be hard for them to find other ways to have fun or construct their social lives around other activities.

Not only do young people think drinking is okay, but they think their peers would find it unusual if they didn’t drink – an attitude that results in higher rates of drinking and alcohol-related risk-taking.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “the belief that ‘everyone’ is drinking and drinking is acceptable—is one of the strongest correlates of drinking among young adults.”

Self-Care Corner

Being social and having fun doesn’t mean you have to drink! In fact, you’ll probably find you have more fun when you form more genuine connections with people, wake up hangover-free and remember what happened the night before!

If you’re worried about drawing unwanted attention for staying sober at a party, try these techniques for coolly turning down a drink:

Offer to drive

Everyone appreciates a designated driver and this way you can make sure your friends get home safely.

Keep a non-alcoholic drink in your hand

If you’re drinking soda water, chances are people who have had a few will assume it’s alcohol anyway, but this gives you an easy reason to turn down an offer for another beverage.

Stay busy

Dance, DJ, join a game, or hit the snack table, which gives you plenty of opportunities to strike up conversations and interact with others without feeling like you’re just standing around.

Prepare an excuse

Say you have an intense workout, family obligation, interview, or other plan tomorrow morning that requires your full mental or physical presence and can’t be done hungover.

At the end of the day, your friends should support your decisions to do what makes you happy and keeps you healthy. While it’s understandable for someone to offer you a drink, pressuring you is not cool.

Remember: if it gets to be too much, or the atmosphere just isn’t your scene, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with heading home.

Risks of Alcohol Abuse

It’s important to get alcohol under control because the risks of alcohol abuse for young adults are serious – and even fatal. Consider the following sobering facts:

how alcohol affects the brain

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Use

Beyond its immediate consequences, the misuse of alcohol can have serious long-term effects on your health. Here are some of the most common problems caused by alcohol:

  • Brain damage – Alcohol can damage the brain’s communication passageways, leading to cognitive and emotional problems and a lack of coordination.
  • Weakened immune system – Alcohol causes your immune system to become less effective, leading to susceptibility to diseases such as tuberculosis and pneumonia.
  • Heart problems – Alcohol abuse can damage the heart, leading to irregular heartbeat, stroke, and high blood pressure.
  • Liver damage – Alcohol can cause alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, fibrosis, and other liver problems.
  • Pancreatic issues – Alcohol abuse can cause inflammation and other serious issues for the pancreas.
  • Cancer – Alcohol abuse increases your risk of getting certain types of cancer, including liver, breast, and mouth cancers.

Clearly, alcohol abuse can have serious consequences, both short- and long-term.

Alcohol Abuse and Major Depressive Disorder Among Young People

Young people are at higher risk for major depressive disorder (MDD) and other mental health concerns. In fact, most mental illnesses first occur before young adults reach the age of 25.

Alcohol abuse worsens symptoms and risks of depression, which can result in a complicated co-occurring disorder- a disconcerting fact considering that 12.3 percent of young adults aged 18 to 25 meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD).

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “higher alcohol consumption and alcohol frequency increase the risk for the occurrence of depression.” Heavy drinking in early adolescence is also thought to be a major contributor to depression later on in life and is associated with severe depression risks like suicide.

Risk Factors for Alcoholism

People in certain demographics are more susceptible than others to alcoholism. The following factors make a person more likely to succumb to problems with alcohol.

Genetics – Alcoholism is more likely if someone in your family has struggled with it.

Gender – Men are twice as likely as women to have problems with alcoholism.

Race – Although alcoholism affects all races, people who identify as Native American, white, and Hispanic seem to be more susceptible to alcoholism than people of other races.

College education – People who go to college tend to be more likely to binge drink during the college years, but people who don’t go to college are more likely to engage in heavy drinking later in life.

Military service – People who serve or have served in the military are more likely to struggle with alcohol misuse.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Misuse

If you’re wondering whether you have a problem with alcohol or not, there are questions you should consider.

  • Do you find yourself needing to drink more to feel the effects of alcohol?
  • Do you sometimes hide your drinking from others?
  • Has alcohol interfered with your job or schooling?
  • Has alcohol ever caused relationship problems?
  • Do you experience symptoms of withdrawal (sweating, fatigue, anxiety, etc.) when you haven’t had a drink in a while?
  • When you get up in the morning, is drinking one of the first things you think about?

If you said yes to one or more of these questions, you should seriously consider treatment.

How to Get Help for Problem Drinking

If you’ve tried to cut down on or quit drinking but can’t, it’s important to get the support you need so that you can get sober and live your best life. If you can’t control your alcohol consumption, the first step is to get treatment.

We’re here for you. Sandstone Care provides an accepting, nonjudgmental environment where you’ll be supported in your sobriety and your development will be encouraged in the many aspects of your life. Our staff is on hand seven days a week to explain your options and answer any questions you may have.

Background Image

Let’s take the next steps together

We understand taking the first step is difficult. There is no shame or guilt in asking for help or more information. We are here to support you in any way we can.