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Alcoholism in College Students: Understanding the Risks

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Peer pressure, stress, lack of sleep, and easy access to alcohol all contribute to alcoholism in college students. This addiction can have various negative consequences, such as academic problems, health issues, and relationship difficulties.

Alcohol abuse in college, even as an underage student, is not uncommon. Understanding the dangers of alcohol abuse and binge drinking among college students can help them make the best decisions for their success. According to research by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, college students who know the risks and consequences of harmful drinking make better decisions. That’s why it’s crucial for college students to be aware of the dangers of excessive drinking and to seek help if they think they may have a problem. Support from friends, family, and campus resources can be crucial in overcoming alcoholism and maintaining sobriety.

What is Considered Alcoholism?

Alcohol use disorder is a serious condition affecting millions of people worldwide. It’s a physical and psychological dependence on alcohol that significantly affects an individual’s functioning. A key trait of alcohol use disorder is the inability to stop drinking despite attempts to quit and negative consequences.

“An earmark of any addiction is an inability to stop the behavior,” said William Feck, LPC-MHSP, NCC, Therapist at Integrative Life Center. “Unfortunately, the addiction usually is formed when the person realizes they can’t stop.”

Alcoholism can have many physical, psychological, and social effects on a person, as well as their family and friends. It’s crucial to understand what alcoholism is to recognize its signs and symptoms, get help for those experiencing it, and prevent it from occurring in the first place.

Alcohol addiction can lead to physical, emotional, and social problems. Having alcohol use disorder means a person’s drinking causes distress or harm and meets specific criteria, such as tolerance (needing more to feel the same effects), withdrawal symptoms if alcohol isn’t consumed, and spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from its effects.

What is Considered Binge Drinking?

The definition of binge drinking is consuming alcohol in a pattern that brings the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08% or higher. Typically this equals five or more drinks in two hours for a male and four or more in the same timeframe for a female. 

A drink is considered one 12-ounce beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled alcohol, such as whiskey, tequila, or vodka. And drinking twice that amount is called “high-intensity drinking.” This knowledge helps a college student monitor their drinking and stay aware of serving sizes that are larger than the typical size. 

Risk Factors for Alcoholism in College Students

College students are at a higher risk of developing alcoholism than other age groups due to stress, peer pressure, and access to alcohol. 

Alcohol consumption and college seem to go hand in hand. In one study, 93% of college students said they drank in the past three months, a percentage that’s been consistent for about two decades, according to BestColleges.com. The same study reported that binge drinking is decreasing slightly, but high intensity drinking is increasing.

“College creates a sort of perfect storm for students because alcohol use is encouraged and expected socially,” William said. “At the same time, their brains are not fully developed and unable to handle higher-level decision making. Young people often think they’re invincible and somehow protected from the consequences of their actions.”

Alcoholism and binge drinking among college students can lead to serious health and social problems and decreased academic performance. College students need to be aware of the risk factors associated with alcoholism so that they can take steps to prevent it. 

Factors that can increase the risk of alcoholism in college students include:

  • Unhealthy Coping and Dependence: Coping with stress, anxiety, or other emotional issues through the use of alcohol can lead to an increased risk of developing alcohol use disorder and other substance use issues. Be mindful of how you cope with emotions to lessen the risk of dependence and addiction.
  • Frequency of Use and Tolerance: The frequency of drinking and the amount consumed can greatly impact the risk of developing alcohol use disorder. Regular heavy drinking can lead to tolerance, or the body’s ability to handle higher amounts of alcohol without showing signs of intoxication. This tolerance can increase over time and make it more difficult for an individual to recognize when they have reached their limit, leading to an increased risk of developing alcoholism.
  • Avoiding Mental Health Assistance: Avoiding mental health treatment or support can increase the risk of relying on alcohol as a coping mechanism, leading to dependence and alcoholism.
  • Mixing Substances.:Mixing alcohol with other drugs or prescription medications can increase the risk of negative health consequences, including overdose, and increase the risk of developing alcoholism.

Factors Contributing to College Drinking

Many factors contribute to drinking among college students. These seem innocuous at first but can quickly develop into habitual drinking.

One of the main factors contributing to college drinking is the permissive environment. College campuses are often associated with a party culture and a lax attitude toward alcohol, making it seem acceptable to engage in excessive drinking. Additionally, the pressure to fit in and conform to social norms can lead students to drink more than they otherwise would.

Another factor is the overwhelming workload and stress that many college students face. Drinking can seem like an easy way to cope with stress and anxiety, but it can quickly develop into a problematic habit.

Underlying mental health issues also can contribute to college drinking. For example, students with depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions may turn to alcohol to cope with their symptoms. But it can worsen mental health problems and lead to a cycle of dependence.

Finally, the idea of social normalcy can also contribute to college drinking. Many students believe drinking is a normal and expected part of the college experience and may not realize the potential consequences of excessive alcohol use.

College students must understand the factors contributing to college drinking and be aware of the dangers of excessive alcohol use. Seeking help, if necessary, can help individuals overcome alcoholism and achieve long-term recovery.

“It’s easy to understand why college students might want to forget about all of the pressure and stress for a while,” William stated. “But they have to find healthy ways to relieve the pressure they’re under. Alcohol isn’t the way to regularly cope. Using alcohol as a tool for coping is far too risky.” 

Consequences of Alcoholism in College Students

Alcoholism is a serious problem among college students, with potentially devastating consequences. Researchers estimate that 80% of college students drink alcohol, which is a higher percentage than the non-college population in the same age range. Of those, about 10% qualify as having alcohol use disorder, and excessive drinking or binge drinking is prominent among college students. 

Excessive drinking can impact a student’s academic performance, physical and mental health, relationships, and future career prospects. It can also increase the risk of accidents, injury, and legal problems. 

Understanding the consequences of alcoholism is important to make informed decisions about alcohol use and seek help if necessary. This information can help students recognize the dangers of excessive drinking and make positive changes to protect their health and well-being. The consequences of alcoholism in college students can be significant and can include the following.

Failing Grades

One of the significant consequences of alcoholism in college students is a falling GPA. Excessive drinking can interfere with a student’s ability to focus and retain information, leading to poor academic performance and declining grades. It can have long-term consequences for a student’s future, causing them to lose scholarships necessary to stay in school or limiting their career prospects.

Developing Addiction

Another consequence of alcohol use is the development of addiction. Over time, excessive drinking can lead to the development of alcohol use disorder. Addiction makes it difficult for people to stop drinking, even if they want to. It also causes a host of mental and physical health issues.

Declining Mental Health

Alcoholism can worsen existing mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, and contribute to new mental health problems. It can significantly impact a student’s quality of life and well-being.

Legal Trouble

The outcomes of collegiate drinking aren’t limited to the individual. They affect others too. Legal problems from binge drinking are common. Legal issues students often face include driving under the influence, vandalism, or assault. The likelihood of involvement with the police increases for college students when they binge drink. These poor decisions after alcohol consumption can follow you for the rest of your life, making it difficult for you to get a job or even keep a driver’s license.

Injury, Physical Abuse, or Death

Another serious consequence of alcoholism is the potential for injury, physical abuse, or death. Excessive drinking can increase the risk of accidents, physical abuse, and overdose, leading to injury or death. In fact, nearly 2,000 college students ages 18 to 24 die each year from alcohol-related incidents. These incidents include car wrecks, hazing, concussions or other injuries from assaults, and aspiration (the buildup of food or liquid in the airway or lungs) during sleep.

Additionally, alcohol can impair judgment and increase the risk of engaging in dangerous behaviors, such as drunk driving or risky sexual behaviors, which can have serious legal and physical consequences.

Signs of Alcoholism in College Students

Alcohol abuse in college can have long-term negative consequences on a young person’s mental and physical well-being. But how do you know if you or a college student you love is abusing alcohol? If binge drinking, as described above, is a regular part of the student’s behavior, they might have a problem. 

“It’s really better not to drink alcohol because no amount of alcohol use is considered safe,” said Teresa Mock, BSN, Director of Admissions at Integrative LIfe Center. “If an adult chooses to drink, they shouldn’t drink more than one or two drinks on occasion. They should never drink and drive, and they should only drink with people they trust and in places where they feel safe.”

Other signs of alcohol abuse include:

  • An inability to control how much you drink at any given time
  • Trying to quit using alcohol unsuccessfully
  • Continued drinking despite negative consequences like poor academic performance or legal issues
  • Neglecting responsibilities like going to work or attending class
  • Changes in sleep or eating habits
  • Needing increasingly more alcohol to get the same effects
  • Spending increasingly more time drinking alcohol or recovering from drinking
  • Craving alcohol
  • Lying or being secretive about how much or how often you drink
  • Having relationship difficulties, especially if they’re directly tied to things you do or don’t do when you’re drinking

How to Address Alcoholism in College Students

Alcoholism is a serious issue among college students and can have long-term consequences. 

“It’s the job of adults surrounding these students to make sure they understand the real dangers — now and in the future — of the lifestyle decisions they make today,” William said. “Addiction forms quickly and lasts a lifetime. Once you’re in recovery, you’re always working to stay sober.”

College officials and parents must take steps to reduce the risks associated with alcohol use, such as providing education about responsible drinking and offering support services to those who need help. 

Additionally, students need to be aware of the signs of alcoholism to identify when a friend or classmate may be developing a problem. 

By proactively addressing this issue, college campuses, parents, and friends can ensure that students stay safe and healthy.

To help address alcoholism in college students:

  • Provide Alcohol Education: Providing information about the dangers of excessive drinking and the risks associated with alcoholism can help students make informed decisions about their alcohol use.
  • Create a New Social Norm: Encouraging a culture of moderation and promoting healthy coping mechanisms can help reduce the pressure to engage in excessive drinking.
  • Developing Healthy Habits: College students should develop healthy habits in relation to sleep, eating, and stress management to help them succeed. Tips on staying healthy in college, both from school and home, can support students during their college journey.
  • Restricting Alcohol Availability: Rules restricting the possession or consumption of alcohol on campus can help keep students safe.
  • Create Support Systems: Encouraging students to seek support from friends, family, and campus mental health resources can help them cope more positively with stress or other issues, overcome alcoholism, and maintain sobriety.
  • Encourage Professional Help: Seeking help from a healthcare provider or residential alcohol rehab can be crucial in overcoming alcoholism and achieving long-term recovery. Treatment may include therapy, medication, and support groups. College students need to know that seeking help for alcoholism is a sign of strength and that recovery is possible.

How Can ILC Help With Alcoholism in College Students?

Alcoholism is a problem for college students. It can negatively affect their lives, now and in the future. Thankfully, various substance abuse treatments can help individuals with alcoholism. College students need to know that they are not alone in their college journey; they can in fact overcome their addictions and lead fulfilling lives with the proper support.

If you or a loved one has issues with alcohol, contact Integrative Life Center to learn more about our treatment programs and plans.

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