Health Risks of Heavy Drinking in Young Adults

It is often said that young people live their lives as if they are invincible.  This is especially apparent when we consider the popularity of drug and alcohol use among teens and young adults.  Most people are vaguely aware of the health consequences associated with heavy drinking, such as chronic liver disease and addiction, but the immediate health problems seen in young binge drinkers are not nearly as publicized.  Young people tend to believe they have time to experiment with substances, treat their bodies and minds carelessly, and leave it all behind without serious repercussions in the future. Unfortunately, the reality is that many young people are unable to consistently consume large amounts of alcohol without causing significant physical and mental damage.  Some of these conditions can be reversed if drinking is stopped early enough, while others may persist or even lead to chronic illness in later years. Understanding the risks associated with drinking may help young people make better decisions in the face of potentially immediate consequences.  

Mental Health

Many people struggling with mental health issues turn to alcohol to cope with their emotional pain.  Unfortunately, alcohol worsens symptoms of mental illness, including anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders.  Young people that participate in problematic drinking behavior may or may not have pre-existing mental health issues, but problematic drinking is likely to lead to one or more symptoms of anxiety or depression over time.  These symptoms are commonly associated with addiction and withdrawal, and without treatment, many chronic drinkers enter into a cycle of ever-increasing alcohol consumption and poor mental health. Generally, mental health greatly improves when a heavy drinker enters sobriety.  However, a recent study found that people who reported an alcohol dependence in young adulthood were more than twice as likely to experience depressive symptoms in their 60s, even after entering remission for substance use disorder. There are several factors that might influence this correlation, including a greater likelihood of pre-existing mental illness among those with a history of alcohol dependence.     

In the more immediate sense, heavy alcohol consumption can lead to temporary psychological disorders, even for those that are not chronic drinkers.  Excessive alcohol use can cause alcohol-induced bipolar disorder as well as alcohol-induced psychosis. These conditions usually disappear after detoxification, but the experience can create lasting trauma.  For heavy drinkers struggling with mental health issues, quitting alcohol is the best chance of returning to mental wellness. There is a chance that heavy drinking can worsen symptoms of mental illness in a way that will take a significant amount of time and treatment to fully recover from, but the sooner you quit, the more likely it is you will be able to completely restore balance to your mind.  Additionally, should you require psychiatric care or prescription medications for mental illness, giving up alcohol gives these strategies a fair shot at success.    

Physical Risks

Recent research has found that people who report alcohol dependence in young adulthood are more likely to suffer from multiple physical ailments in their 60s, in addition to mental health issues.  Those who were found most likely to show long-term physical health consequences of heavy alcohol use reported being a problem drinker for at least five years. These five years may have occurred in their early 20s, but this research suggests the effects of excessive alcohol consumption can follow them throughout their lives.  As with mental health issues, most physical effects of heavy alcohol use disappear with sobriety, but it seems some alcohol-induced problems linger or stay dormant until later years.

Additionally, physical health issues typically associated with older drinkers are seen in young people more than many may realize.  Drinkers in their teens and 20s still have developmental processes occurring in their bodies, and this active growth may be disrupted by heavy alcohol use.  For example, excessive alcohol consumption greatly increases the risk of oral cancers in young people, as well as liver and heart disease. Heavy alcohol use can also contribute to premature development of osteoporosis in young people, as alcohol inhibits the bones’ ability to absorb calcium.  The most immediate and dire of all alcohol-related health problems for young people is the risk of overdose. Binge drinking is especially common among teens and young adults which puts them at an increased risk of alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning can cause nausea, vomiting, and loss of consciousness, and is often not recognized as an emergency by peers.  Without emergency care, alcohol poisoning can lead to seizures, brain damage, and death.  

Alcohol use is extremely normalized among young adults and is often not taken as seriously as it should be.  What may be considered a rite of passage in some circles, may be the beginning of a lifelong battle with addiction and the many health issues associated with substance abuse.  If you believe you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, now is the time to reach out for help. At Burning Tree Programs, you will find a team of compassionate, knowledgeable professionals who specialize in helping young adults struggling with addiction and their families.  Here, our clients tackle their addictions head-on and harness the power to restructure their lives in a way that fosters lasting sobriety. We believe that practicing recovery doesn’t have to mean an end to educational or career goals, but instead can become a fundamental part of a successful and fulfilling life.  For more information on how we can help, call us now at 972-962-7374


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