Millennials get a bad rap. Despite being referred to as “the entitlement generation,” millennials have had struggles that are unique and all their own. An erratic economy, an unpredictable job market, social unrest, war, and a myriad of other distinct challenges have characterized the last twenty years of American history. However, we’re often quick to dismiss the adversity millennials have had to overcome, and as such many of the difficulties they still face fall on deaf ears. At this very moment, we’re ignoring an epidemic of astronomical proportions. Alcohol abuse and alcoholism in America are on the rise, and the generation most affected is the one most dismissed.
There’s nothing wrong with drinking alcohol for fun in a safe and responsible fashion; unfortunately, for many millennials, this is often not the case. To say alcohol is a part of college life is a colossal understatement. We consider alcohol to be a staple of the collegiate experience, with our parents and our parent’s parents likely all engaging in some level of alcohol consumption. However, in recent years, alcohol use is on the rise. Since 2005, heavy drinking has increased by up to 17% in some areas of the United States, and in 2012, over 18% of Americans were considered binge drinkers. Binge drinking, or drinking for the purpose of becoming intoxicated in a short period of time, is a popular activity in college to say the least. Research has shown that over 70% of people experience a period of heavy drinking during their lifetime that lasts from three to four years, and usually occurs during college. What many don’t know is that heavy drinking leaves you with far more than just a headache the next morning.
Studies have shown that college-aged drinkers who consume four or more drinks more than three times in a two week period are almost twenty times as likely to develop alcoholism compared to those who don’t binge drink. This isn’t a meaningless figure either. According to a study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), young adults already make up over 31% of American alcoholics. That’s not a number that should be ignored. To figure out why it’s so high, we need to identify where and how underage drinking begins.
Pinpointing exactly where the issue of youth alcoholism begins is nearly impossible, but signs point to underage drinking playing a significant role. 35% of high school students drink alcohol in some capacity, and over 10% of all the alcohol in the United States is consumed by those ages 12-20. Some believe that as long as underage drinkers are being safe, that a little underage drinking is harmless. Aside from the abundance of evidence linking underage drinking to social, school, and physical problems, it can also set the stage for far worse later in life. Those who begin drinking before 15 are six times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later on in life than those who begin drinking at 21. Drinking at this age can cause serious, long term consequences for one’s health, and is clearly linked to a rise in alcoholism amongst American youth. Why, though, do both underage and millennial drinkers continue to abuse alcohol, despite the wealth of evidence warning against it?
While figuring out where and how alcoholism begins can be extremely difficult, identifying why young people drink is relatively simple. An overwhelming majority reported that they drink simply to have fun and relieve stress, while others drink to feel more sociable. This isn’t nearly as nefarious or sinister as all the data makes college and underage drinking sound. Many millennials are simply feeling unparalleled levels of stress and pressure in society today. According to a study conducted by the American Psychological Association, millennials are feeling the most stress of any generation. They’re the most likely to feel that their stress has increased over the past year, and are by far the most likely to say they’ve felt lonely and isolated due to stress. Combined with the costs of college, a tumultuous job market, and an unrelenting course load, it’s not surprising we’re seeing extremely high rates of youth alcoholism.
The outlook for millennials and alcoholism isn’t necessarily good. High rates of alcoholism persist after graduating from college, and all signs point to alcoholism resulting from heavy drinking during this period. What we can learn from the culture of drinking and alcoholism surrounding millennials is that prevention needs to begin early. Rehab centers in California, Texas, Washington D.C. and other states that rank high in millennial population have all seen increases in rehab attendance for alcohol, especially amongst youth. A strong community, available treatment, a caring family, and an intelligent social circle all make it difficult for alcoholism to take hold. We need to be aware that, despite the the fact millennials are seen as entitled, we don’t dismiss them or their struggles. Millennials have endured quite a few struggles unique to their generation, and the epidemic of youth alcoholism is beginning now. All we have to do is pay attention.
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