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Is Binge Drinking Considered Alcoholism If You’re A College Student?

Fall is around the corner and for many young people, it’s almost time to ship off to (or return to) college. They pack up their rooms, kiss mom and dad goodbye, and venture to a campus where they are testing out the freedom of (almost) adulthood. For most colleges and universities across the U.S., drinking alcohol is intertwined within the student culture, even though the legal age to consume alcohol in the U.S. is 21. Although beer pong and keg stands are ritual behavior for some college students, where do we draw the line between casual drinking and alcoholism? How do you know when to approach a fellow student about their over-the-top drinking?

In a national survey on drug use and health conducted by SAMHSA, they found that roughly 80 percent of college students drink alcohol, and two out of three admitted to binge drinking on a regular basis. Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL, otherwise known as the legal limit in the U.S. This typically occurs after four drinks for women and five drinks for men—in a two-hour time span.

To add fuel to the fire, binge drinking is deemed acceptable among many college students. The dangerous act boasts booming social lives, competitive natures, games, popularity and more. It’s the center of their social media feeds, the key to getting into an exclusive party, a rite of passage into Greek life.

If you’re concerned about a peer who may be on the brink of a real problem with alcohol, consider these symptoms:

  • Losing consciousness, or “blacking out” followed by memory loss after a night of drinking/drinking episode
  • Extreme mood swings, especially irritability
  • Making excuses for binge drinking, such as to relax, deal with stress or feel normal
  • Choosing drinking over other responsibilities and obligations, skipping class, jobs, sports practice or extracurricular activities
  • Becoming isolated from friends, teachers and family
  • Drinking alone or in secrecy frequently
  • Feeling hungover even when not drinking
  • Changing appearance and social circles who match their drinking habits

Society views drinking in college as a fine line between partaking in the “college experience” and being on the path to alcoholism. It’s better to be safe than sorry, because the consequences of irresponsible drinking can be dire.

Speaking of consequences, about 696,000 students between the ages of 18 - 24 are assaulted by another student who is under the influence of alcohol, per the Annual Review of Public Health. About 97,000 students between the ages of 18 - 24 report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape. Other common alcohol-related problems and crimes include drunk driving, vandalism, unsafe sex, academic problems, suicide attempts and death. About 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 - 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor-vehicle crashes, according to the same report. Additionally, about 20 percent of college students meet the criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), says the Archives of General Psychiatry.

How do we approach the subject of alcoholism to students? Colleges and universities tend to have their own strategies for educating and guiding their student body about alcohol use, with:

  • Educational awareness programs and campaigns
  • Cognitive-behavioral and skills-based approaches
  • Motivation and feedback-related approaches
  • Behavioral interventions by health professionals

Of course, there’s no “one size fits all” approach, and every person’s tolerance to alcohol varies, and their views differ to what constitutes “casual” or “social” drinking over AUD. In any case, it’s best to consult a professional on or off campus, who specializes in substance-use disorders and behavioral health.

If you or someone you love needs help for an addiction, Spectrum Health Systems and the New England Recovery Center are here 24/7. Our individualized services provide the support you need, when you need it. Learn more on our website or call us at (800) 366-7732 for inpatient services and (800) 464-9555 extension 1161 for outpatient treatment.

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