Alcoholism in Millennials

Many of the warmest memories with my friends and family have involved alcohol. A glass of wine here and several G&Ts there lead to two of my favorite things: silliness and laughter. It’s easy to forget that something associated with celebration can quickly become destructive. Alcoholism in millennials isn’t something we should take lightly.

Being in your late teens and early twenties around 2009 meant you were intimately familiar with the subtle flavors of Four Loko and the angelic sound of Asher Roth’s “I Love College”. This is especially true for people who went to college, but even people who didn’t can probably relate.

That was nearly a decade ago; even the youngest millennials are done with college, getting comfortable in their careers, and starting families. College kids these days are likely to be the oldest of “Generation Z” (or whatever we end up calling them), or at the border between Gen Z and Millennial.

Our college days are behind us, and with them went our excuses to binge drink without repercussions. Our bodies are getting older, our lives are more complicated, and our responsibilities are more pressing than making it to a 10 am Psych class. That’s not to say millennials should quit drinking altogether, but that our relationship with alcohol does need to evolve along with us.

Millennial women may be at particularly high risk for complications related to alcohol use. Men used to consistently drink more than women, but the tide is changing. Among people born in the 1990s, women and men are about equally likely to drink and abuse alcohol. This isn’t a case of men simply drinking less over the years, it’s that women are drinking more. On average, millennial women drink more than their mothers ever did.

I’m all for closing gender gaps of any kind, but this is concerning for a number of reasons. For one, it may be less likely for friends or family to recognize alcoholism in a woman because we are socialized to believe it is more of a men’s issue. Additionally, alcohol use increases risk of heart disease, which is another health concern that is often underestimated among women.

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The line between casual drinking and alcohol dependency can be a hazy one. If you or a friend cross that line, it may be difficult to notice at first.

Here are a few things to watch out for when it comes to alcoholism in millennials:

1. You can’t always control your drinking.

Alcoholism doesn’t always mean cracking open a Bud Light for breakfast each morning. It can also show up as an inability to quit drinking once you start.

If you’ve had many nights of “casual drinks” unintentionally turn into blackouts, then you might have an issue with alcohol dependency.

2. Your alcohol consumption is hurting your relationships.

When you’re not being yourself, relationships can suffer.

Alcohol can ignite fights between friends and family, but it should be a rare occurrence that never creates a permanent rift. Alcohol may be a problem if you’re consistently making the people you care about distrust or even resent you.

3. Drinking is getting in the way of your responsibilities.

A night out shouldn’t impact your work week. If you’re a parent, your alcohol consumption should not impact the way you care for your kid. Your bar tab shouldn’t come before your utility bill. You get the idea.

If you’re having trouble prioritizing things other than drinking, it might be a sign of alcohol dependency.

4. You want to cut down on drinking but you keep finding excuses not to.

We’ve all woken up with a headache bad enough to make us swear off alcohol forever. If you talk about quitting drinking regularly but you never get around to actually quitting, there might be a problem brewing.

5. You’re doing things you wouldn’t otherwise do.

People who’ve had too many tequila shots get a few free passes for making questionable choices. Bad karaoke? Hilarious, but nbd. Drunk texts to your ex? Yikes, but at least no one got hurt.

Drunk people do not get a free pass for driving under the influence or assaulting people. It’s not just a funny story if someone could have gotten seriously injured or killed — it’s a problem. Alcoholism may be the culprit if you or a friend have made some seriously bad decisions while under the influence.

6. You’re drinking because you feel sad/anxious/etc.

Some people drink because of undiagnosed or untreated mental health disorders. Mental health issues can crop up anytime in life, but especially during significant life changes like switching jobs, moving, or becoming a parent.

If you suspect you may have a disorder like depression or anxiety, drinking will only exacerbate the issue in the long-term. If you can, address your mental health concerns with your doctor.

7. You’re experiencing physical symptoms.

Aside from behavioral signs, there are some physical symptoms of early alcoholism that may indicate something is wrong:

  1. You feel like need alcohol to feel normal or you feel hungover whenever you aren’t drinking.
  2.  Numbness in your hands and feet
  3. Stomach cramps
  4. Worsening of a previous issue (i.e., existing knee pain may get worse)

Anyone can develop an alcohol problem, but just a few specific risk factors include having a mental health issue, a parent with alcohol use disorder, or being under significant stress.

These are just a few of the red flags to look out for in yourself and your loved ones. If you relate to just one of these points, consider the possibility that alcohol has become a problem in your life. Don’t let the stigma of alcoholism prevent you from seeking help.