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What Does “College Alcoholism” Mean?

College alcoholism refers to alcoholism that affects college students. Seen as the best time to experiment because of the newfound freedom, the college years are 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 is defined as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks on one occasion for male students and four or more alcoholic drinks for female students.

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.

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 being invited to parties, attending social gatherings with new people, and dealing 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 not uncommon 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. These levels affect a person in different ways. 

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: Five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women in a two-hour period on at least one day over the course of a month.
  • Heavy Alcohol Consumption: Binge drinking on five or more days over the course of a 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 a pattern of drinking that elevates your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level to 0.08 g/dL. 

Of course, BAC levels differ for everyone. 

Your BAC level depends on your weight, how much food you’ve consumed, any medications you’re taking, and other factors. For most adults, binge drinking is consuming four or five (for men and women, respectively) drinks in two hours.

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

While binge drinking refers to excessive drinking in a set timeframe, heavy drinking refers to binge drinking often. Heavy drinking is a binge-drinking pattern that happens frequently. Heavy drinkers have made a habit out of binge drinking.

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. 

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:

  • They experience an inability to limit their drinking
  • You catch them continuing to consume more and more alcohol
  • They develop a high tolerance for alcohol that requires them to drink a larger amount of alcohol to get drunk
  • You notice that, the more they drink alcohol, the more they start neglecting their self-care, like their hygiene and nutrition
  • You find them drinking alone from time to time or, worse, often
  • You notice that they’re letting their school obligations and responsibilities like homework and sports fall to the wayside
  • They start lying to you or making excuses about their drinking habits
  • They keep consuming alcohol despite alcohol-induced issues with their health, social life, academics, etc
  • They develop cravings for alcohol
  • They experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, irritability, and tremors

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.


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Risks of College Alcohol Use & Misuse

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

About one in four college students who drink report experiencing academic troubles from drinking. This includes missing class and getting behind in their schoolwork. 

College students who binge drink at least three times a week are about six times more likely to perform poorly on tests and projects than students who drink but don’t binge drink. They’re also five times more likely to miss a class.

More importantly, college alcoholism can be dangerous. Any level of alcohol misuse is dangerous to one’s health — whether they’re a college student or an adult. About 1,519 college students ages 18 to 24 die from alcohol-related injuries, such as car crashes.

Alcohol misuse and use also make them a hazard to others. About 696,000 students ages 18 to 24 report having been assaulted by another student who has been drinking. Moreover, about 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.

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 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 full of medical doctors, mental health specialists, and other holistic healers to aid in a safe recovery.
  • Holistic health treatment centers often combine various healing techniques. This might include art therapy, traditional talk therapy, meditation techniques, fitness, nutrition, and more.
  • Faith-based organizations can help people with strong religious beliefs on the road to recovery.
  • Cognitive-behavioral and other mental health 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.
  • Support 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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