The Unique Hardships of Young People Facing Alcohol Use Disorder

This article is shared from a newsletter from our friends at Addiction Recovery Services

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We recently sat down with Addiction Recovery Services’ Program Director John Iudice to speak with him about some of the hardships young people face when they struggle with alcohol addiction. As an adolescent transitions to young adulthood, the newfound freedoms can lead to temptations and experimenting with harmful substances, particularly alcohol. 

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What are some of the most common challenges with helping a younger person struggling with alcohol?

A younger person drinking is more commonplace and socially acceptable in a lot of the circles where younger people hang out overall, like in college. The biggest challenges, however, are that a younger person often has not had as much time to experience some of the more negative consequences that older people may have experienced, such as job or relationship loss, failure to fulfill obligations as a parent, withdrawal symptoms, or multiple treatment episodes. As someone gets older, those consequences may start to add up.

How difficult is it to actually define a person’s situation as alcohol addiction? Is it more difficult for someone younger? If so, why?

It can be very difficult for the same reasons stated above. The DSM [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] diagnosis of alcohol use disorder relies on delivering a diagnosis based on specific problems caused by use. If someone hasn’t had time to accrue those consequences, the diagnosis may not be present. The newer version DSM-5 added some nuance to the picture by allowing for a diagnosis to be given with specifiers of mild, moderate, or severe, which does increase the chances that someone can meet the criteria for a use disorder as mild even in earlier phases of problematic drinking.

Related to the above question: How does binge drinking play into the definition of alcohol addiction, especially for someone who may only drink once a week, but binges when they do?

Someone who binges may still experience tolerance and problems with work, school, or relationships if bingeing enough. Hangovers sometimes last into weekdays. As noted above, it may meet the criteria as a mild alcohol use disorder.

Do you see any common signs or indicators for how a younger person — someone between 18 and 30 — ends up struggling with alcohol?

Yes, the indicators might be that they start to have problems at school, work, or in romantic or family relationships. They may be the person who is last to leave the party or whose binges begin to trickle into the workweek.

Related to the above question: Do you think the culture around drinking, and specifically around the college experience, guides a sort of expectation among 18- to 24-year-olds when it comes to alcohol consumption?

Yes, it’s become an expected rite of passage in our culture.

How does treatment help guide young people through the social landscape they will face when they are no longer drinking, but their friends may still be?

The more treatment addresses underlying concerns of young people without simply focusing on the alcohol use alone, the better. It is one of our principles of treatment to “treat the person and not just the problem.”

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