Drinking is a common occurrence among college students. It is important to remember that alcohol can cause serious problems. School performance and general functioning can be significantly impaired due to excessive drinking.
Why do people drink?
There are a variety of reasons students may choose to drink alcohol. People drink for fun, relaxation, or to avoid unwanted feelings such as stress, anxiety, loneliness, or depression. Some students drink due to peer pressure and to fit in during social situations. Some use alcohol to avoid difficult circumstances at home, school, or work. Gaining an awareness of why you drink may help you make better decisions.
How do I know if I have a drinking problem?
Here is a set of questions to help you find out if alcohol use may be a problem in your life:
- Do you drink to cope with or escape from problems?
- Do you drive while intoxicated?
- Has your drinking ever caused accidents or injuries to yourself or others?
- Do you suffer physical consequences related to alcohol use, such as hangovers, fatigue, weight change, etc.?
- Do you ever go to school or work while under the influence of drugs or alcohol?
- Do you rely on alcohol to relieve physical or emotional pain?
- Do you drink in order to feel comfortable socially?
- Do you get in trouble with the law when you drink?
- Are you having financial problems related to your drinking?
- Is your drinking interfering with your academic/work performance or relationships?
- Have you ever felt guilty about your drinking?
- Have you ever been annoyed by criticism of your drinking?
- Have you ever felt you ought to cut down on your drinking?
- Do you prefer to drink alone?
- When you drink, do you get overly emotional?
- Do you ever experience memory loss or blackouts due to drinking?
- When you drink, do you often get drunk even when you did not mean to?
- Do you have to drink more and more in order to get the same effect?
- Do you feel you need the substance?
- Do you feel sick or moody when you haven’t drank, then feel normal again once you do?
- Is there a history of drug or alcohol abuse or dependence in your family?
If some of the above items apply to you, it may indicate that a problem exists. It might be time to take a closer look at your drinking behaviors. What begins as moderate use often results in increased tolerance, which leads to drinking larger amounts in order to achieve the same effects. This increase in tolerance takes place in the early stages of addiction.
People don’t set out to become addicted to alcohol, but anyone who drinks runs the risk of developing a problem. Binge drinking, or drinking to get drunk, can cause major consequences. Though alcohol can seemingly reduce negative feelings in the short-term, it is a depressant and actually has the reverse effect once the “buzz” has worn off. Substance use problems often co-occur with psychological issues or disorders, like depression and anxiety.
Look for problems such as:
- Decreased quality of academic performance
- Relationship conflicts
- Loss of interest in things you enjoy
- Lack of pleasure from positive things in life
- Problems with sleeping
- Sexual difficulties, unwanted sex, or sexual coercion
- Indifference to behavior and/or appearance
- Legal issues
- Health concerns, such as chronic colds or infections
- Isolation from friends and/or family members
- Financial troubles
It is hard to admit that your alcohol use has become a problem, especially if you still enjoy aspects of drinking. Ask yourself what are the advantages and disadvantages of using alcohol, and what are the pros and cons of cutting down or quitting. These questions are particularly useful in order to identify goals you would like to set for yourself in changing your drinking patterns, as well as the challenges you might face when working toward those goals.
How does alcohol enter the bloodstream?
Alcohol is immediately absorbed through the lining of the stomach and small intestine into the bloodstream. Two factors affect the rate at which alcohol enters into your blood. If a drink is carbonated, the increased pressure will force alcohol into the bloodstream faster; conversely, food in the stomach slows the absorption of alcohol. The liver can typically process about one ounce of alcohol per hour. Excess alcohol remains in the blood stream, resulting in increased blood alcohol content (BAC), even after you’ve stopped drinking. Ninety percent of the alcohol you ingest is metabolized, while the other 10% is excreted. A 12-ounce beer (5% alcohol by volume) has the same amount of alcohol as a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor (40% alcohol) or a 5-ounce glass of wine (13% alcohol).
(Source: Princeton University Health Services).
How does alcohol affect the brain?
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant; therefore, it gradually turns off the various parts of the brain.
- The first parts of the brain affected by alcohol are usually the frontal lobes, which are areas that control judgment. People become disinhibited and do things they wouldn’t normally do and may later regret. Due to this loss of self-control, people are more likely to be impulsive.
- When motor areas of the brain are affected, it can cause slurred speech, difficulty walking, and decreased coordination.
- Perception can become altered, impairing the ability to judge depth or speed.
- Hearing and vision are affected.
- Blackouts occur when your brain can only focus on one thing: keeping you alive. Eventually, with enough alcohol consumption, vital brain areas responsible for consciousness and heart and lung function are affected. Passing out and paralysis may occur, and sometimes even death by alcohol poisoning.
(Source: Massey University Health and Counseling Services)
What effects can alcohol have on me?
“Immediate physical effects from alcohol include: loss of muscle control, impaired reflexes, vomiting, and unconsciousness.” Since alcohol passes directly into the bloodstream, overuse of alcohol can affect almost every system in the body. Long term use can cause permanent brain damage, weight gain, as well as birth defects if drinking while pregnant. Excessive drinking can also cause serious accidents, injuries, and death.
(Source: Pace University Counseling Center)
Some of the long-term physical consequences of problem drinking are:
- Damage to brain cells
- Neurological problems including impaired motor skills, deterioration of vision, and seizures
- High blood pressure, putting you at greater risk for strokes and heart attacks
- Increased risk of cirrhosis, ulcers, heart disease, heart attack and cancers of the liver, mouth, throat and stomach
- Degeneration of muscle and bone
- Severe withdrawal symptoms and/or hallucinations
Alcohol can have psychological effects, not only for the drinker, but for others as well. Alcohol abuse can lead to family conflicts and broken households. Family members and other loved ones often suffer psychological symptoms, including low self-esteem, depression, health problems, and relationship problems. They may minimize the severity of their loved one’s problem, feel responsible for it, or experience anger, shame, and resentment. Being related to an alcoholic or living with one puts a person at greater risk for alcoholism and other addictions.
(Source: Pace University Counseling Center)
Ways to reduce risk if you decide to drink
- Don’t over drink; set limits beforehand
- Drink slowly
- Avoid hard liquor and shots
- Set up a buddy system and stay together
- Eat a meal before you drink
- Stay away from carbonation in alcoholic beverages; it will increase your BAC more rapidly
- Alternate with non-alcoholic beverages in order to slow down your alcohol consumption and counter the dehydrating effects of alcohol
- Don’t combine alcohol with medications or other drugs. Alcohol’s effects are multiplied by medicines that depress the central nervous system, such as sleeping pills, antihistamines, antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and painkillers.
- Don’t drink if you’re really tired; it will magnify the effects of alcohol
- Do not mix drinks, put your drink down out of sight, or take drinks from strangers
- Have a sober, designated driver plan before you go out
- Avoid drinking games that may quickly lead to impairment
- Practice ways to be more comfortable in social situations without using alcohol
- Identify healthier ways to reduce stress (i.e., exercise, meditation, etc.)
- Let a friend know when you have had enough
- Do not drink and drive
- Try drinking less than typical for you
- Experiment with refusing drinks
- Limit attendance to social events where heavy drinking will occur
- In the case that you choose not to drink, be assertive and clear about your choice
- Don't let someone drive if they have had too much to drink
- Call 911 for help if a person who has been drinking cannot be awakened or is unresponsive (it's more important to save a life than worry about other possible consequences)
Strategies to Cut Down
Some people choose to cut down their drinking rather than stop immediately. It is advisable to seek medical advice prior to cutting down or ceasing use, as some people experience severe withdrawal symptoms. Seek medical assistance if you become unwell during a reduction in substance use.
The following strategies have been found to be useful in cutting down:
- Plan ahead how you will deal with difficult situations or feelings - you may need to avoid some situations at first
- Delay the first use and each use after that
- Identify friends who support your efforts to change
- Don't try to keep up with others - go at your own pace
- Ask a friend or family member for support
- Find something else to do to take your mind off wanting to use (ie., a new hobby)
- Decide how you plan to respond to friends who offer you a drink before you see them, such as "Not tonight", "No, but you go ahead", "No, doctor's orders" or simply "No, thanks"
- Identify other things you have in common with friends other than drinking
- Remind yourself of the positives about cutting down
- Practice relaxation and stress reduction techniques
- Join a support group
- Seek counseling or some type of professional help
How can I get help?
Help is available and easy to find. There are many different types of treatments to help people whose lives are affected by alcohol. For severe addictions, there are detoxification programs that require a stay in the hospital or a treatment center. Once the physical addiction is addressed, follow-up treatment is always recommended. Outpatient treatment options include individual, family, or couple’s therapy. Support groups are also available for sufferers of alcoholism and their family members or loved ones (ie., Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, and Alateen).
(Source: Pace University Counseling Center)
You can visit or contact the Smucker Learning Center to make a counseling appointment or to get more information about alcohol treatment.
Wayne College offers free counseling services to enrolled students.
Visit the Smucker Learning Center or call (330)684-8960 to schedule an appointment.
The Counseling Center of Wayne and Holmes Counties
Wooster Location: 2285 Benden Drive (330)264-9029
Orrville Location: 345 South Crown Hill Drive (330)683-5106
Rittman Location: 8 North Main Street (330)925-5466
*Crisis Assistance available 24/7*
Catholic Charities of Wayne County
521 Beall Avenue, Wooster, OH 44691
STEPS at Liberty Center
Gault Liberty Center
104 Spink Street, Wooster, OH 44691
* Residential treatment options available through Steps*
Anazao Community Partners
330-264-9597 or 330-674-4608
Substance abuse and mental health treatment and counseling for all ages, education and support groups.
The National Drug and Alcohol Abuse Referral Hotline - (800) 821-4357
Alcoholic Anonymous – List of Local Meetings:
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): Alcohol
Alcohol Assessment Test
Intervention with Others
If you are worried about a friend’s drinking behavior and want to talk to them about your concerns, here are some suggestions:
- Initiate a private conversation when neither of you are under the influence of alcohol
- Decide what to say beforehand
- Listen non-judgmentally and respond to your friend with compassion
- Try to stay calm and refrain from using accusatory statements
- Be specific about your concerns, such as “I was really worried when you were throwing up the other night”
- Be prepared for denial. Do not be pushy or forceful; just let your friend know you are there for support.
- It may be beneficial for you to discuss your own concerns with a counselor
How to Help a Drunk Friend
If your friend is exhibiting signs that he or she is significantly impaired and you are not sure whether you need to seek medical help, it is better to err on the side of caution and call 911. If you do not believe it’s necessary to seek medical attention, here is what to do:
- Stop your friend from drinking any more alcohol.
- Do not assume that he or she will be fine or make it home safely.
- Find a quiet place for the person to sit down and relax.
- Make sure he or she stays warm. A high BAC can lower body temperature, even if the person feels warm.
- Offer water.
- Remember that nothing but time can cause a person to “sober up.”
- Do not leave your friend alone, even if he or she is conscious. Continue to watch for signs of alcohol poisoning.
- If your friend wants to lie down, make sure he lies on his side to prevent choking on vomit. Place something behind his back to stop him from rolling over.
- Monitor your friend’s breathing to make sure it is not abnormally shallow or slow.
- Do not assume an unconscious person is sleeping. The individual may be suffering from alcohol poisoning.
There are three primary symptoms indicative of alcohol poisoning:
- The person is unresponsive and cannot be awakened. You observe that he or she has cold, clammy, or unusually pale or bluish skin.
- The person is exhibiting slow or irregular breathing patterns (less than eight times per minute or at least 10 seconds between breaths).
- The individual does not wake up during or after vomiting.
If you observe one or more of these three symptoms, call 911 immediately. Keep trying to wake your friend. Closely monitor breathing and perform CPR if breathing stops. If you don’t know CPR, find someone who does.
(Source: Princeton University Health Services)