Alcoholism & Addiction

The Damage Alcohol Abuse is Doing to Twenty-Somethings

Alcohol abuse costs young people in terms of health, relationships and quality of life, but it also has an impact on the broader culture. New research has managed to quantify some of those negative costs to the individual as well as society at large.
Called the Christchurch Health and Development Study, the research took a broad look at how heavy drinking by New Zealand’s young adults affects several aspects of a person’s life. It was conducted by researchers at the University of Otago in Christchurch, New Zealand. What they found was that a significant number of people in their 20s abuse alcohol and that abuse creates a number of negative personal and social consequences. According to the study nearly 25 percent of young people (ages 21 to 30) in New Zealand experience at least a subclinical problem with alcohol.

A subclinical problem means that while the person is not physically dependent on alcohol, alcohol use nevertheless has an impact on his/her ability to meet the demands of daily life.  Another five percent of young people in the study did meet the criteria for a diagnosis of full-blown alcohol addiction. Since things such as family history, environment and prior use of other substances can have an impact on alcohol use and its consequences, the research team carefully factored out these issues before calculating and publishing their statistics on alcohol abuse as a single problem issue.

To begin with, abusing alcohol during their 20s made it very likely that they would make some risky relationship decisions. The study said that alcohol-addicted young people were 11 times more sexually promiscuous, meaning 10 or more sexual partners, compared to non-addicted peers. They were also two time more apt to have a sexually transmitted infection.

The study revealed that young people with subclinical alcohol use (but not addiction) are three times more prone to behave violently towards others. These young people are also nearly doubly apt to become victims of violence, and the risk for domestic violence rose twofold. When the young person was actually addicted to alcohol the risk for committing violent crimes became nine fold and their chances of being a victim of violence tripled. The study team found that if these same twenty-somethings were not abusing alcohol then the number of violent crimes committed by this age group could be sliced in half.

Drinking heavily during their 20s also made it more probable that these individuals would commit crimes against property. Alcohol addiction makes twenty-somethings three times more likely to become involved in behaviors such as vandalism, burglary or car theft, and that risk was twice as high for those with subclinical alcohol misuse.

Suicidal ideation among those with alcohol addiction was seven times greater, and three times higher among those with a subclinical abuse problem.

What is obvious from the Otago study is that heavy drinking by people in their twenties carries serious repercussions. Even for those whose alcohol use does not rise to the level of clinical addiction, the problems are severe, including increased violence, greater potential for criminal behavior, high risk sexual encounters and personal despair. It becomes obvious how things like job performance, family life and other relationships suffer when young people consume too much alcohol.

The study’s lead author also pointed out that the research indicates how quickly a young person’s life can spin out of control. He further mentioned that it often took parenthood before a young person decided to ease up on alcohol consumption. Since young adults are postponing marriage and parenthood by a significant margin, this means that risky behaviors late into a person’s 20s may become a new and socially unfortunate norm.

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