Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

How to Deal With an Alcoholic Young Adult?

Table of Contents

How to Deal With an Alcoholic Young Adult?

Alcoholism, medically termed Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), can have profound and long-lasting effects on young adults physically and mentally.

National health bodies, such as the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association, emphasize early detection and intervention for young adults showing signs of AUD, as this age group is particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of excessive alcohol consumption.

The issue of alcoholism in young adults isn’t just a health concern. It extends into education, employment, relationships, and overall personal development. Early interventions can play a pivotal role in preventing the long-term consequences of AUD, but it’s essential to approach the subject with sensitivity, understanding, and adequate knowledge.

Numerous misconceptions float around alcoholism in young adults, often leading to stigma and further alienation of the affected individuals. This article offers guidance on effectively dealing with an alcoholic young adult while dispelling common myths and promoting a supportive environment.

Alcoholism in Young Adults

Alcoholism in young adults is a profound and critical issue that requires direct attention and understanding. It’s not simply about an occasional drink or a party gone wild; it’s a complex disease that impacts the brain and its functions. Recognizing the early signs and symptoms is crucial to prevent lifelong complications.

Signs of Alcoholism in Young Adults:

  1. Increased tolerance for alcohol – Consuming more significant amounts of alcohol to feel its effects.
  2. Withdrawal symptoms – Experiencing physical discomfort, anxiety, or other ill effects when alcohol use is discontinued.
  3. Loss of control – Drinking more than intended or inability to reduce alcohol consumption.
  4. Neglected responsibilities – Dismissing or failing to fulfill commitments at work, school, or home due to alcohol use.
  5. Relationship issues – Continued drinking despite causing problems in relationships.

Characteristics of the Young Adult Alcoholic Subtype

The young adult alcoholic subtype presents a unique characteristic profile that differs from other alcoholic subtypes. These traits provide insight into this group’s behavioral patterns, demographics, and tendencies.

  1. Demographics: The individuals in this group were predominately male, with an average age of 25.
  2. Age of onset: This group had an early age of alcohol dependence, typically diagnosed around 19.6 years of age.
  3. Family history: About half of this group had first-degree or second-degree relatives diagnosed with alcohol dependence, indicating a potential genetic or environmental predisposition.
  4. Substance use: Individuals in this group were moderately likely to use tobacco or cannabis products alongside alcohol.
  5. High-risk behavior: These individuals had a propensity to use alcohol in dangerous situations.
  6. Physical dependence: This group was likely to develop physical alcohol dependence.
  7. Mental health: Compared to other groups, these individuals had a lower probability of having co-occurring mental health disorders.
  8. Treatment-seeking behavior: The young adult subtype was less likely to seek treatment for their alcohol abuse independently.

Notably, binge drinking is common in this group, although they may not consume alcohol as frequently as other subtypes. When individuals from this cluster did seek treatment, they generally preferred 12-Step groups over therapy or private treatment options.

It is important to remember that no causal factors can be directly associated with this group’s alcohol abuse. The research method used to develop this model does not allow for causal inferences. Therefore, assumptions of causality based on a family history of substance abuse and early onset diagnosis are inappropriate interpretations of the data.

The Impact of Alcoholism on Young Adults and Their Families

Alcoholism in young adults brings multifaceted challenges to the individual and their families, spanning emotional, physical, and socio-economic realms.

  1. Emotional and Psychological Impact: Alcohol dependency hinders the young adult’s emotional and psychological development, often leading to heightened or suppressed emotions, compromised decision-making, and accompanying mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
  2. Physical Health: Chronic alcohol abuse results in health complications, exposing young adults to long-term ailments like liver damage and cardiovascular diseases.
  3. Socio-economic Consequences: Affected young adults often see a decline in academic performance, hindering future educational and employment opportunities. This affects their financial standing and places economic strain on their families. Moreover, alcohol-related mishaps or legal troubles are more likely.
  4. Familial Strain: Alcoholism places emotional burdens on families. Parents might grapple with self-blame, while siblings could feel sidelined. This often leads to eroding trust and relationships within the family.
  5. Ripple Effect in Social Circles: The social repercussions extend beyond the family. The young adult might experience distancing from friends, and family members could encounter judgment or stigma from their community.

Dealing With Denial: Helping Your Loved One Recognize Their Alcoholism

Denial is a common defense mechanism that many individuals with addiction issues employ. It’s a protective shield, allowing them to avoid facing their situation’s pain, guilt, and reality.

However, for a young adult struggling with alcoholism, denial can be a significant barrier to seeking help. Recognizing and addressing this denial is crucial for the individual and their loved ones.

  1. Understanding the Root of Denial:
    • Emotional Factors: The shame, guilt, and fear of admitting alcoholism can overwhelm a young person.
    • Social Pressures: The societal stigma attached to addiction and peer influences might cause young adults to downplay or dismiss their drinking habits.
  2. Strategies for Addressing Denial:
    • Open Dialogue: Initiate a non-confrontational conversation. Use “I” statements, expressing concern rather than making accusations.
    • Educate: Provide information about alcoholism, emphasizing its impact on health, relationships, and prospects.
    • Seek Professional Help: Consider involving a counselor or addiction specialist. They can provide a neutral perspective and assist in breaking down denial barriers.
  3. Avoid Common Pitfalls:
    • Avoiding the Issue: Not addressing the problem can enable the young adult’s alcoholism.
    • Confrontation: While it’s essential, to be honest, avoid being confrontational. It can push the individual further into denial.
    • Making Excuses: It’s crucial not to justify or make excuses for the young adult’s behavior, even out of love.
  4. Empower Through Support:
    • Build Trust: Ensure that your loved one knows you’re on their side and that your concern stems from love and care.
    • Encourage Treatment: Introduce them to rehabilitation programs, support groups, or therapists that can help them.
    • Stay Informed: Understand the recovery journey and remain active support throughout their path to sobriety.

Treatment Options for Alcoholism: Finding the Best Help for Your Young Adult

1. Professional Rehabilitation Centers

  • Inpatient Rehab: These are residential facilities where young adults receive 24/7 care, including medical supervision, counseling, and group therapy. These programs, typically lasting between 28 days to 6 months, are especially beneficial for those with severe alcohol dependencies or co-occurring disorders.
  • Outpatient Rehab: Suitable for those grappling with milder forms of alcohol addiction. Outpatient programs allow individuals to live at home while they attend counseling and therapy sessions several times a week. This approach balances treatment and maintaining commitments outside the world, such as college or work.

2. Counseling and Behavioral Therapies

  • Individual Counseling: One-on-one sessions with a therapist help young adults understand the root causes of their addiction, develop coping strategies and build self-esteem.
  • Group Therapy: By sharing experiences with peers, young adults can gain insights into their addiction, garner support, and develop interpersonal skills.
  • Family Therapy: This approach involves the patient’s family in the treatment process, helping to mend strained relationships and create a supportive environment at home.

3. Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Certain medications can help reduce cravings, manage withdrawal symptoms, and restore the chemical balance in the brain. Consulting a psychiatrist or addiction specialist can provide more information on MAT’s benefits and potential risks.

Supporting Your Young Adult Through Recovery: Tips and Techniques for Caregivers

Watching a loved one struggle with alcohol addiction can be difficult. Particularly when it comes to young adults, who are just beginning to navigate the complexities of life, the struggle can seem even more challenging.

There are various ways you can support them through their recovery journey. Here are some of the most effective methods:

  1. Support Groups: Organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or SMART Recovery offer peer support for young adults in recovery. These groups can be a valuable tool for maintaining sobriety and connecting with others who have similar experiences.
  2. Sober Living Homes: Some young adults reside in sober living homes after completing a rehabilitation program. These are structured environments free from alcohol and drugs, where residents can transition back to daily life while having the support of a sober community.
  3. Alternative and Holistic Therapies: Treatments such as yoga, meditation, art therapy, and equine therapy can complement traditional treatments, offering therapeutic outlets and stress-relief techniques.
  4. Relapse Prevention: Aftercare programs, continuous counseling, and building a support network are crucial for preventing relapses. Equipping young adults with the tools and strategies to recognize and manage triggers can ensure long-term sobriety.

Frequently Asked Questions

Signs and symptoms of alcoholism in young adults include frequent intoxication, neglecting responsibilities, mood swings, and increased secrecy about their activities.

Excessive alcohol consumption harms young adults by damaging their livers, impacting cognitive development, and exacerbating mental health issues.

Young adults turn to alcohol due to reasons like peer pressure, stress and as a means to cope with emotional pain.

Parents can recognize early signs of alcohol dependence by observing changes in behavior, deteriorating school performance, and unexplained absences.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy and peer group counseling are often effective treatments for young adults with alcoholism.

Parents can support their children by educating themselves about addiction, ensuring open communication, and seeking professional counseling for the family.

Peer pressures and social environments are crucial as they can normalize or glamorize excessive alcohol consumption among young adults.

  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2020, January 1). Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder. Retrieved from
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). TIP 59: Improving Cultural Competence. Retrieved from
  3. American Psychological Association. (2005, September 28). Alcohol and Problem Drinking – APA Services. Retrieved from

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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