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College Alcoholics

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What Does “College Alcoholism” Mean?

College is a time of newfound freedom. Therefore, these years can be very tempting to students.

In fact, four out of five college students consume alcohol to some degree

Social activities and sporting events provide easy access to alcohol. What usually starts out as one drink can then turn into two or three - or even more.

Constant drinking, week after week, will cause the body to build a tolerance to alcohol. If this happens, the person will need to consume more alcohol to get the desired effects.

College alcoholism affects many students.

According to a survey, about 53 percent of full-time college students, ages 18 to 22, drank alcohol in the last month. About 33 percent of them also engaged in binge drinking behaviors.

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is slightly different for men and women:

  • For men, it means consuming five or more alcoholic drinks in two hours.
  • For women, it's four or more alcoholic drinks in two hours.

It’s a slippery slope from binge drinking to alcoholism. And around 9 percent of full-time college students, ages 18 to 22, meet the criteria for alcoholism.

College students who struggle with alcohol addiction face unique challenges that affect their school work, social lives, and health.

Some side effects of drinking may resolve on their own, going away after a few days. However, others might leave a lasting effect.

Frequent heavy drinking can lead to an alcohol use disorder (AUD). This is why it’s important to recognize the red flags and seek help.

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Risks of College Alcohol Use & Misuse

College alcoholism leads to many issues, from health issues to academic problems to assault on college campuses and more.

Some statistics include:

  • About one in four college students who drink report experiencing academic troubles from drinking.
  • College students who binge drink are six times more likely to perform poorly on tests and and and five times more likely to miss class.
  • About 1,519 college students ages 18 to 24 die from alcohol-related injuries, such as car crashes.
  • Roughly 696,000 students ages 18 to 24 report having been assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
  • Almost 97,000 students ages 18 to 24 report experiencing alcohol-related campus sexual assault or date rape.

College alcoholism doesn’t only affect the student struggling with alcohol addiction; it involves students, their families, and the college communities.

Why Is Drinking Common in College?

Drinking alcoholic beverages in college is common for many reasons. Social camaraderie is the most common reason for drinking in college. 

College puts students in social situations, and many of these students live outside of their parent’s homes for the first time. They’re invited to parties, attend social gatherings with new people, and deal with novel stressors with schoolwork and sports responsibilities. 

All of these factors may drive them to drink.

The first six weeks of freshman year can be the most vulnerable time for many first-year college students. They may face expectations and social pressures at the start of their college careers. 

While not all college students drink, it’s very common for first-year students to start experimenting with alcohol.

And, for some who do, experimentation can develop into alcoholism over time.

Levels of Alcohol Use

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), there are three levels of alcohol consumption:

If you want to take note of your alcohol consumption, here are the guidelines:

Moderate Alcohol Consumption

Up to one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.

Binge Drinking

  • Men —Five or more drinks in two hours
  • Women — Four or more drinks in two hours

Heavy Alcohol Consumption

Heavy alcohol consumption is binge drinking on five or more days per month.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines a standard drink as:

  • 12 oz of beer with 5 percent alcohol, equivalent to one regular can of beer.
  • 8-9 oz of malt liquor with 7 percent alcohol, equivalent to a half pint of glass.
  • 5 oz of wine with 12 percent alcohol, equivalent to a regular glass of wine in a restaurant.
  • 5 oz of tequila, gin, whisky, or vodka (distilled spirits) with 40 percent alcohol, equivalent to a regular-sized shot glass. 
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Binge Drinking vs. Heavy Drinking

Binge drinking is consuming four to five standard drinks in two hours.

Heavy drinking refers to binge drinking five or more days per month. Heavy drinking is a binge-drinking pattern that happens frequently. Heavy drinkers have made a habit out of binge drinking.

College binge drinking is quite common. In 2019, 33 percent of people between 18 and 22 years of age reported binge drinking in the past month. Meanwhile, another 6.3 percent said that they’d engaged in heavy alcohol use in the past month.

College Drinking Prevention

Students at colleges with strong Greek systems tend to drink more. Drinking may be part of their fraternity or sorority culture.

Alcohol consumption is higher among students who live with their fraternities or sororities. It is lower among students who live with their families. 

Likewise, colleges with prominent sports programs also are high-risk environments for students. 

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Signs Your College Friend May Have an Alcohol Use Disorder

A college alcoholic, or any other alcoholic, will often exhibit signs of alcoholism.

If your college friend is showing any of the following signs, they may have an alcohol use disorder:

  • An inability to limit their drinking
  • Continuing to consume more and more alcohol despite health, social, academic, or legal issues
  • Developing a high tolerance for alcohol that requires them to drink a larger amount of alcohol to get drunk
  • Neglecting their hygiene and nutrition to drink more alcohol
  • Drinking alone from time to time (or, worse, often)
  • Letting their school obligations and responsibilities like homework and sports fall to the wayside
  • Lying to you or making excuses about their drinking habits
  • Cravings for alcohol
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms

If you or someone you know is struggling with AUD, reach out for professional help to stop drinking immediately. If it’s your friend, staging an intervention can help before the situation grows worse.

Treatment Options for Alcoholic College Students

If you, a friend at college, or someone you know is suffering from AUD or substance abuse, help is available. Here are some addiction treatment options for alcoholic college students to explore:

Inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities

These facilities are available for anyone who is struggling with a drinking problem.

You can live in the facility, or you can choose to visit for regular checkups with healthcare professionals. These rehab centers are staffed by medical and mental health professionals to aid in a safe recovery.

Holistic health treatment centers

They often combine various healing techniques. This might include art therapy, traditional talk therapy, meditation techniques, fitness, nutrition, and more.

Faith-based organizations

These organizations can help people with strong religious beliefs on the road to recovery.

Mental Health Treatment

Therapies can help you unpack any triggers that are driving you to drink. For example, if stress from college classes or pressure from college sports is taking a toll on you, therapy can help.

There are a variety of therapy approaches to alcohol use disorder.

These include:

Support groups

These groups are available so that no one who is struggling with alcohol use disorder has to go through it alone.

You can talk with other people who are in similar situations. If you have a loved one or a friend who is a struggling alcoholic, you can also attend these support groups.

To search for a treatment facility near you, you can use the government Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator.

For college students who may feel most comfortable talking with peers in similar situations, here are some support groups available to them:

Reach out to a professional as soon as possible — before the drinking problem gets worse. It’s never too late to ask for help.

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Updated on March 30, 2022
15 sources cited
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  12. Skerrett, Patrick J. “Heavy Drinkers Aren't Necessarily Alcoholics, but May Be ‘Almost Alcoholics’,” Harvard Health Blog, 17 June 2020
  13. Turrisi, Rob, et al. “Heavy Drinking in College Students: Who Is at Risk and What Is Being Done about It?,” The Journal of General Psychology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2006
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