Young Irish are bingeing on alcohol and cocaine
Rehab centre says number of addicts aged 18 to 25 has trebled in two years
Binge drinking and a habitual party lifestyle have led to an unprecedented number of young adults attending residential treatment programmes for both alcohol and cocaine detox, according to the Rutland Centre.
The private addiction rehabilitation centre in south Dublin said the number of people aged between 18 and 25 who underwent rehab for both alcohol and cocaine addiction has trebled over the past two years.
It has also witnessed a doubling of the number of adults under the age of 40 being treated over the same period.
The centre's 24 beds are now routinely filled by an increasingly younger cohort whose partying lifestyle has caught up with them. A five-week stay at the facility costs €11,500.
Rutland Centre medical director and psychiatrist Dr John O'Connor said he is treating people in their 20s for alcoholism, drug addiction or both that typically began when they were barely into their teens.
"It seems to me they started drinking in their early teens and it became an established habit by the age of 19 and 20 and a full-blown addiction before the age of 25," he said.
There has also been a resurgence in the abuse of cocaine that was more prevalent during the Celtic Tiger era but has become part and parcel of the party lifestyle in some circles.
"They often start off the night drinking to excess and then feel diminished and take cocaine to keep partying," said Dr O'Connor.
The combination of the two drugs is highly addictive and mutually reinforcing, but they have become the basic ingredients for a night out among a worrying number of young people, he told the Sunday Independent.
"Drinking and drug abuse is beginning in adolescence and is clearly getting out of control at a much younger age," said Dr O'Connor.
Aside from the hefty cost of rehab - which is typically paid by the families of the addicts out of their own pockets or by insurance companies if they have sufficient coverage - the earlier an addiction takes hold, the harder it is to kick.
Dr O'Connor added that the amount of damage to the body and the brain from drug or alcohol abuse intensifies the younger the person was when he or she started drinking or taking drugs.
"My major concern is that the human brain only matures in adults in their mid-20s so the effect of alcohol and drug abuse on the brain will be a serious issue for these young people in the future," he said.
As the Christmas party season reaches fever pitch this week, the Rutland Centre is anticipating a surge in calls from concerned parents and other family members over a young one whose drinking or drug-taking is out of control, said Dr O'Connor.
"With families spending more time together, often a person's addiction issues will become more obvious," he said.
"It can be a fraught time with family tensions brewing, and the pressures of Christmas can often be the spark that brings a person's addiction to a crisis point."
Meanwhile, the age of women being treated for "wine addiction" is continuing to drop. Whereas it was once women in their 40s or 50s who were drinking excessively at home, it is now women in their 20s and 30s who are undergoing treatment for alcoholism after getting into a habit of drinking wine at home throughout the week.
What may have started off as a seemingly normal and harmless glass of wine at the end of the workday has turned into a serious dependency, said Mr O'Connor.
"It's a progressive thing. You have a glass, then a second one and there's nothing wrong with that. But it becomes an issue in itself, " he said.
"Some women we are seeing are holding down very responsible jobs, but they are drinking two bottles of wine a night."