Millennials, typically defined as those born between 1980 and 1996, may be at a greater risk for developing alcohol use disorder or alcoholism. According to a report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, nearly a third – 31% – of alcoholics in America are young adults.
“I know that millennials have gotten a bad rap – that they’re lazy and entitled – but that’s just one way to look at them,” said Lisa Tahir, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Intuitive Psychotherapist.
One of the causes, she said, may be that they are the first generation to grow up entirely in an internet era. They’ve relied on devices and failed to develop advanced social skills that could help them cope and succeed.
“They lack certain social skills, and many are coping with social anxiety and depression with copious amounts of alcohol,” Tahir said.
The rate of diagnosed personality disorders like narcissism among this generation is high, she said.
“It’s almost a landslide – people dealing with a dual diagnosis of mental health and addiction. I see addiction as self-medication for people dealing with a deeper problem – people find solace in drugs and alcohol but at a certain point, it stops helping and becomes a problem,” said Kate Lubahn, Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in addiction.
According to a Stress in America Survey by the American Psychological Association, millennials have the highest reported levels of stress – an average stress level of 5.5, compared with 5.4 for Gen X, 4.5 for Baby Boomers and 3.5 for “matures.”
“Work stress and financial stress contribute to drinking in millennials but now that we’re paying attention more closely, we can help people cope in a way that’s healthier,” Lubahn said.
Warning signs of alcohol abuse include binge drinking, withdrawal, a disregard for personal safety when drinking, a change in mood and subtler signs like different sleep patterns or changes in appetite, “or if someone seems to need drugs or alcohol to have a good time.”
According to the CDC, binge drinking is most common among adults between the ages of 18 and 34. Binge drinking can be defined as consuming more than four drinks at a time for women, and more than five drinks at a time for men.
Tahir feels social media is partially to blame for “normalizing” binge drinking.
“As much as we know alcohol is bad for you, memes and social media minimize the consequences of thinking and binge drinking,” Tahir said. She described memes forwarded by her patients that show a wine barrel replacing the office water cooler and other photos prominently featuring alcohol.
According to a national teen survey done by CASAColumbia at Columbia University in 2011, American teens ages 12 to 17 who spend any time on social media during a given day at increased risk of smoking, drinking, and drug use. The survey also found that 40 percent of teens surveyed have seen photos of people passed out, drunk, or using drugs on social media.
“As for social media, you’ll get what you’re looking for – you can find amazing resources and communities for recovery, but social media is such a double-aged sword because people can get addicted to that too. The trick is not to replace the drug with the internet,” Lubahn said.
A 2015 study by American University said that millennials grew up hearing about anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and suicide, and they are more accepting of others with mental illness. It can be easier to open a dialogue about mental health and wellness, which can lead to people getting the help they need, according to Lubahn.
“Alcohol Awareness Month [April] is a great thing – it’s helping to remove the stigma and creates the opportunity for talking about these things,” said Lubahn. “Millennials have a leg up since we’re talking about addiction in the mainstream now, it’s less of a ‘monster-in-the-closet.’”
If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s free hotline at 1-800-662-4357.