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Millennials & Alcohol Misuse: We Can’t Afford to be Laser-focused on Opioids Alone

Millennials are on the cusp of surpassing Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living adult generation this year, according to population projections from the U.S. Census Bureau. A whopping 73 million Americans fall into this millennial category. And while the nation is (justifiably) fixated on the opioid crisis that killed about 42,000 people last year, alcohol misuse killed more than twice that number (88,000). Millennials are defined as anyone age 22-37 according to Pew Research Center.

The opioid epidemic is a national emergency for sure, but we cannot afford to be so laser-focused that we ignore the numbers of millennials abusing alcohol, a very deadly substance in its own right. Some statistics:

  • A study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), divided people who meet criteria for alcohol use disorder or alcoholics into age groups; 31.5% were millennials.
  • In one recent year, millennials consumed 159.6 million cases of wine according to the Wine Market Council, more than any other generation, enough for more than two cases per person, and 42% of all the wine drunk in this country.
  • The American Psychological Association says the average stress level of other generations is 4.9, millennials top out at 5.5. Twenty-five percent of millennials with financial stress use alcohol to cope with their depression, anxiety, irritability, and more.
  • Work stress, college debt, and financial uncertainty – common among this generation -are huge precipitators to drug abuse and alcohol misuse.

Millennials are abusing alcohol at high rates and the consequences can be deadly. How is this smart-phone-addicted, internet-born, social-media-obsessed generation different from others?

Recovery Centers of America’s Chief Scientific Officer, Deni Carise, PhD, says, “There is a significant number of millennials abusing alcohol to cope with stressors we haven’t faced in other generations. This includes 24/7 access to news – good and bad – via the internet and smart phones, and direct observation of others’ lives through social media.”

She goes on to say, “Social media can give the impression that all of someone’s friends are drinking or partying, everyone’s doing it, combined with the reality that smart phones cut millennials off from actual, much-needed person-to-person relationships. In addition to this lack of a human support system, this also means that what they see online and what the actual truth is may be vastly different.”

Financial stressors may also play a role in millennial drinking behaviors as the generation graduates from college and moves through the workforce in their 20s and 30s, perhaps not at as quickly as they had imagined, and many coming out of school with significant student loan debt. As noted above, financial pressure and stress is correlated to alcohol abuse as a means to cope.

Dr. Carise also believes that the millennial generation’s parents could be playing a factor.

“A large number of parents of millennials mistakenly thought that by letting their teens drink at home, they were safer because they had adult supervision and wouldn’t be driving. But a recent study found that teens whose early exposure to alcohol came from home may actually be more likely to drink and suffer alcohol-related harms.”

“The bottom line,” says Dr. Carise. “is that millennials should be aware of the dangers of alcohol as well as opioids, and that treatment specific to the unique needs of their generation of young adult men and women is available.”



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