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Alcoholism In the Young Adult

Alcoholism in the young adult is possible no matter what kind of background they come from– rich, poor, abusive, not abusive, functional, dysfunctional, it doesn’t matter.

The disease of alcoholism is a disease of the brain which can be genetic. Alcoholism in the young adult is very difficult to deal with, especially for the families.

Peer Influences

It can also be hard for the young adult to identify as an alcoholic. Most of their peers are drinking and the behavior of an alcoholic, such as drinking until you pass out, throwing up or falling over while drunk seems somewhat socially acceptable as this behavior is commonly exhibited by most young adults when they happen to abuse alcohol. 

Usually alcoholism in the young adult begins with the typical teenage partying stage.  While most people grow up and move into the next phase of life, the young alcoholic will remain in a stage of perpetual partying (if they are lucky and don’t end up dying or going to jail.)  

Often, the young alcoholic won’t mature properly, and instead retains childish behavior patterns and a stunted state of mind because their disease (drinking) prevents them from achieving proper emotional growth. They discovered alcohol makes them feel better equipped when encountering uncomfortable situations such as social anxieties, depression, stress, etc.

Drinking becomes a learned behavior and the solution to problems.

The young alcoholic becomes dependent on alcohol, usually as a means of coping with life’s difficulties, including those which can appear insurmountable to the young adult who is not chemically dependent.

Family Factors

One of the major reinforcements surrounding alcoholism in the young adult is the enabling behavior exhibited by their families.  Oftentimes family members unwittingly enable alcoholism in the young adult without even being aware. It’s very possible to love your child and still be inadvertently enabling. Young alcoholics tend to be very manipulative. It is very hard dealing with alcoholism in the young adult and it is common for parents to blame themselves and internally ask what they might have done differently in the child’s life in order to have prevented the alcoholism. 

No matter what decisions a parent makes for raising their child, it’s unlikely they could have prevented alcoholism in the young adult. It is common for the young adult and parent to think that their child will grow out of the drinking phase; ergo family members unknowingly continue to enable them. It is also common for a parent to be in denial of alcoholism in the young adult, which also leads to enabling. Unfortunately, the longer the disease progresses, there is a greater likelihood that the young adult will experience further detrimental consequences such as car accidents, D.U.I.s, assaults, and death.

Although all of these things sound like a nightmare, it can be challenging to stop drinking independently, no matter how hard they try or want to. Emotionally, alcoholism in the young adult causes has poor self-esteem and may lead them to ask themselves, “Why can’t I stop when I know all of these dreadful consequences can happen”?  The problem lies in that the disease of addiction renders brain function very challenging without help. 

The following personal story illustrates the onset of alcoholism in the young adult, culminating in a triumphant end revealing tools and solutions for managing the chronic illness.

A Personal Testimony

The Beginning: Ballet, A Diagnosis and Private School

I was born December 29th 1987 in Sacramento California. I was the third child and I had two older sisters. Two years later my little brother was born.  I lived in a nice neighborhood and I had wonderful parents. I was a somewhat sneaky kid who was ‘always up to something’ as my dad would say. I also ate a ton of candy and I remember shoplifting candy as a really young kid. I had strange behavior from day 1.  I started taking ballet when I was three and I loved it. 

We all went to a private school and I remember enjoying school because I had a lot of friends, but this was also where my first insecurities began. I struggled in reading and I remember that reading did not come as easy to me as it did to the rest of the kids in my class. 

As the years went on I continued to do ballet and in the second grade I was diagnosed with a learning disability. I remember feeling really weird about going to the psychologist’s office and having to take all these strange tests. I felt like I was different from everyone else. 

With each new school year I had to present my teachers with a letter outlining the diagnosis of my learning disability. It made me feel really weird, but I knew giving that letter would help the teacher understand me better. I always felt as if I wasn’t smart or capable of much when it came to schoolwork. Although studies weren’t my forte, I was talented in ballet; being in ballet class boosted my self-esteem because I felt like I was good at something and it was incredibly fun. 

I had a lot of familial support when it came to my struggles in school. I was very close with my family and I had a good deal of fun growing up with my siblings.  I was very blessed to have such an idyllic childhood. My family and I moved to Carmichael, a suburb of Sacramento, because we built a brand new house there on the American River. By that time I was just about to start 7th grade.

Starting Public School and Bad Habits

My next-door neighbor, who was like a brother to me, was going to start middle school at a public school in the neighborhood. I told my mom I wished to go to public school because I was tired of how hard private school was for me. I figured public schoolwork would be easier. 

In the fall, I decided to quit ballet after 9 years. Pretty much from here it all went down hill. I remember starting public school and I only knew my neighbor. I remember feeling incredibly scared and I didn’t quite know how to make friends yet. I just remember those first few weeks of 7th grade hating it a lot. 

Eventually I starting making friends and became pretty well known in the school. The kids admired my nice clothing so I became well known for being ‘rich.’ The guys showed interest in me and I enjoyed that attention even though it wasn’t healthy attention. I remember loving, but at the same time hating, middle school because it was just a really awkward phase. 

I got bad grades, was suspended a lot and forced to attend Saturday schools. I was in detention at least 3 days a week. I remember being really curious about weed so I bought some at school one day. I tried smoking it with some friends, but I didn’t do it right so I didn’t really get high.

Falling in Love with Substances

I started high school and I went to the school that all the kids from my middle school went to. It was known as a big party school and that sounded great to me. The same behavior went on for me only it went to the next level because I started smoking weed almost everyday after school or I would leave school with older kids at lunch and get high.

I became absolutely obsessed with pot. I became extremely close with my oldest sister and we began smoking pot together a lot. We became partners in crime. I started to become really curious what it was like to be drunk. 

My first drink was when I was 15 after a dance. I remember leaving the dance early because I wasn’t having fun since I didn’t like my date. I remember really wanting to drink because I was frustrated and felt like I needed to have some fun. I started chugging some alcohol and the feeling started to kick in.

I can’t even describe in words how much I loved how it made me feel. I couldn’t stop smiling. I just remember repeating, over and over, “I love this I love this I love this” It made me not care about anything in life and it completely relaxed me. It turned off all of those thoughts that I don’t like thinking in my head and just made me feel free. I ended up drinking till I blacked out and my friends came and picked me up. I remember throwing up but luckily my friends took care of me.

From that day forward alcohol was my obsession. I started drinking and partying every weekend with my sister. I met my first boyfriend, Joey, at one of the house parties my sister and I threw. He was four years older than me and he and I became inseparable. He loved to drink as much as I did and we would get drunk together all the time, even during the day.  

My drinking just got worse and worse and my dad and I were always fighting.

The First Signs of Disease Appear

In 11th grade I unintentionally lost 15 pounds. I didn’t even realize it until my mom noticed and put me on the scale. I was always a thin girl so 15 pounds was very noticeable. I was about 100 pounds and I am 5’6”. I remember getting lots of attention about my weight and I liked it. My mom took me to the doctor and I had tests done. I was even put under anesthesia for a colonoscopy and a tube down my throat, but everything came back normal. 

I remember the day I came out of the hospital I begged my dad to let me go out that night. He wouldn’t let me because I was still recovering from being put under anesthesia, but I needed to drink so badly that I begged and begged. He said, “No” and I remember being extremely frustrated. I was still very pale and weak, but I didn’t care; I wanted to go out drinking.

At the time it made no sense to me that my dad wouldn’t let me, but now I look back and realize how bad my disease of alcoholism was. 

Getting in Line: Here Comes Cocaine

Later on I became curious about cocaine. My sister came home to visit from college and I did my first line with her. I fell in love.

My drinking really progressed because alcohol and cocaine together felt amazing. One night my parents thought I was at a tutoring session, but really I was out snorting cocaine with some friends on a school night!

Later that night we all went home and the next morning I found out that the guy I was driving around and doing coke with had crashed his car into a tree on his way home and died. I didn’t talk to anyone when I heard because I thought I could get in trouble. I pretended for a long time that his death didn’t bother me but it did.

My drinking got worse and a few weekends later a friend and I were pulled over by the cops because we were both drunk.  The cops said we were swerving into incoming traffic and she was arrested for DUI. My parents came and picked me up and got me out of any legal charges. I got lucky.

I still couldn’t stop drinking even after seeing my friend die from it a few weeks before. That made me feel really bad about myself because I didn’t realize how sick I was.

The Disease Progresses

Summer came and I was on cocaine every single day. I didn’t want to be with Joey anymore because all I cared about was coke and alcohol. I broke up with him and it was hard but I didn’t feel the pain of the break up because I was always drunk. I lost even more weight and I gained the reputation of a cokehead at school. I used to pretend it didn’t bother me, but deep down I knew it did. 

Cocaine brought my drinking to the next level. I loved how I could drink more if I snorted coke. That fall I was working for my dad at his office part-time after school so I had lots of money to support my habit. I woke up, did lines, and went to school; I remember doing lines and taking shots of vodka in the bathroom.

I knew I had a problem and I also suspected I was an alcoholic because ever since the first drink that I had, I loved it too much. I knew I would have to deal with it someday, but I wasn’t yet ready.  

Senior year I was drunk or high everyday and I was fighting with my dad every weekend about being able to go out. I remember humiliating myself every weekend, being drunk at parties, having unprotected sex, losing my wallet or purse, and getting really sick the next day. It wasn’t just a normal hangover, it was like having the flu because of the amount of liquor I would drink. 

I still couldn’t stop drinking despite all the horrible things that were happening. Again, this made me feel really bad about myself because I thought it was my fault. Somehow I was barely able to graduate; I even remember drinking before the ceremony by myself.  Most of my drinking at this point was by myself.

College: Bad Black-Outs

That summer my parents decided I should move down to Irvine and move in with my sister and go to community college there. They thought if I stayed in Sacramento my life would only get worse. I thought it would be fun, but it wasn’t. My drinking progressed; I was buying big bottles of vodka and drinking them by myself in my room and at this point I wasn’t even going out partying. 

On Halloween weekend I decided to drive to Santa Barbara with one of my friends who lived in LA. Naturally, I got really drunk and I ended up waking up completely naked in a room full of guys I didn’t know. I got dressed and ran out of the house and tried to forget about it. I didn’t tell anyone about it because I thought it was my fault for getting so drunk.  I couldn’t remember anything at all and it was the worst black-out experience I’d ever had. I went out, intoxicated, one night a few weeks later and ended up hitting a pole and denting my car.

Binges Begin

My drinking got worse and I ended up moving back to Sacramento because I was having panic attacks. I saw a psychiatrist, was diagnosed with panic disorder and my doctor prescribed me Xanax. I was taking 5-10 Xanax a day and drinking. I couldn’t stop drinking and I started to go on 3 day drinking binges.

My mom sent me to a drug and alcohol doctor and I was put into an outpatient rehab center. I didn’t take it seriously and I still drank. I lied to my family and told them I was sober. After I got really tired of everything and I was able to give up alcohol for 5 months, I was telling everyone I was “sober” but I was popping Xanax,Vicodin and Percocets.

I hit a bad depression to where I couldn’t get out of bed or eat. I weighed 93 pounds so my doctor put me back on antidepressants. I started to feel better, but still not right.

Becoming a Walking Zombie

I started drinking again and taking lots of prescription drugs. I was going on the 3 day drinking binges and that time of my life is like a blur to me. I just remember feeling like a walking zombie. 

My sister Nora came home from college that spring and I happened to be on one of my 3 day drinking binges and my family couldn’t find me. Once I got home I remember being so sick and my mom and sister had to carry me to my bed. I spent the next couple of days throwing up.

Opening Up

My sister got on the phone with the Betty Ford Center; my parents and I flew down and checked me in. The Betty Ford Center was amazing, although kind of a blur to me. 

It took me a while to finally open up to my counselors there and I finally talked about being raped in Santa Barbara. I stayed 30 days and then went to Safe Harbor for aftercare. I wanted to go home, but I was willing to do whatever was suggested. 

Safe Harbor really saved my life. I met a myriad of young girls just like me who are the greatest friends I have ever had.

The Gift of a New Life

Safe Harbor taught me how to live in the real world sober and how to live and be a productive member of society. I was diagnosed Bipolar 2 disorder 6 months into my sobriety. I see an incredible psychiatrist and I’m properly medicated now.

Now I’m a student at Orange Coast College and I’m living with sober friends. I now have goals and interests.  I never thought I would be where I am today or believe in myself. Each day I stay sober, the happier I get and the more comfortable I become in my own skin.

It’s not always easy, but I know what to do when I am having a hard time and I can walk through my fears. I can now live a life beyond my wildest dreams and live up to my full potential in life! What a gift!