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The Deadly Consequences of Alcohol Abuse in College

These days, it seems that alcohol is everywhere. From billboards to television to online ads, we’re constantly bombarded with imagery depicting alcohol and its use as a fun and occasionally glamorous pastime—but this is far from the truth. Unfortunately, college students are taking these advertisements to heart in worrying numbers:

  • 4 out of 5 college students report that they drink alcohol at least occasionally
  • About half of college students who drink also do it in the form of binge drinking

In recent years, rising rates of binge drinking on college campuses have resulted in thousands of tragedies and even deaths. Also, students who binge drink are far more likely to experience a decline in academic performance, as well as negative changes in mental health. It’s clear that something needs to change, but first, we need an in-depth understanding of the facts and figures surrounding this unfortunate trend.

What Is Binge Drinking?

Most of us are probably familiar with the concept of binge drinking—after all, it sounds fairly self-explanatory. However, it’s important to define exactly what it is, since so many college students engage in it unknowingly. The threshold for binge drinking is lower than you might think, and its definition is a drinking pattern that results in a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 grams per deciliter. That may not mean much to you on its own, so let’s translate that into a number of drinks. For the average woman, that means having about 4 drinks within the space of 2 hours. For the average man, it’s 5 drinks in the same timeframe. In the United States, the alcohol content of a standard drink is about 14 grams. To be more specific, that translates to:

  • One 12oz beer at 5% alcohol by volume (ABV)
  • One 5oz serving of wine at 12% ABV
  • One 1.5oz serving of distilled spirits at 40% ABV

This may seem fairly straightforward, but most college kids don’t accurately measure the serving sizes of their alcoholic beverages. It’s common to see over-poured beer and wine even among adults, and mixed drinks are even more dangerous. Many students who engage in binge drinking might not even know it, whether it’s because others are serving them or they don’t know the definition of binge drinking. Since it’s so easy to go overboard with alcohol, just how many students are finding out the consequences of binge drinking in college?

College Binge Drinking Consequences

The effects are incredibly destructive when college kids binge drink. Aside from the damage done to the body, students who binge drink put themselves and others at risk. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the statistics surrounding student drinking are staggering:

  • Death. About 1,825 college students aged 18-24 die of accidental, alcohol-related injuries. This includes drunk driving accidents, falls, and all other types of unintentional injuries.
  • Assault. An astounding 696,000 students aged 18-24 experience assault at the hands of another student who has been drinking.
  • Sexual Assault. About 97,000 students report being sexually assaulted or date raped with the assistance of alcohol.

As you can see, these are serious — sometimes deadly — consequences that can arise from even one single instance of binge drinking, on the part of either victim or perpetrator. Students are quite literally risking life and limb when they drink too much, but what about other types of consequences?

Academic Anemia

Binge drinkers are no strangers to hangovers — and when you’re in school, those hangovers can wreak havoc with your grades and academic performance. NIAA reports that 1 in 4 students experience academic consequences related to their drinking. This includes:

  • Missing class
  • Falling behind in class
  • Getting low grades on exams and essays
  • Getting lower grades overall

That’s a full 25% of the college population missing out on their academic potential because of alcohol abuse! In addition, students who binge drink at least 3 times per week are 6 times more likely to perform poorly on tests than those who drank but did not binge. The binge drinkers also missed class much more than their peers due to drinking. In fact, 64% of binge-drinking college students reported missing class because of alcohol, as opposed to a low 7% of their peers. Equally disturbing is the fact that about 20% of all college students meet the diagnostic criteria for an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), otherwise known as alcoholism or alcohol dependence.

College Students and Alcohol Use Disorders

One of the more negative long-term effects of college binge drinking is the development of a substance use disorder. In order to be diagnosed with AUD, you must have experienced any two of these symptoms within the last year.

  • Drinking more or for a longer period than intended
  • Wanting to cut back or stop drinking, but not being able to
  • Spending a lot of time drinking or being sick with the aftereffects
  • Experiencing cravings or strong urges to drink
  • Having trouble in school, at work, or with family due to drinking
  • Continuing to drink despite clear negative consequences
  • Giving up hobbies or activities to drink
  • Getting into risky situations because of drinking
  • Continuing to drink even after it begins causing anxious or depressive symptoms
  • Experiencing a climb in tolerance, or having to drink more for the desired effect
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms (like nausea, restlessness, sweating, etc.) after the effects of alcohol wear off

As you can see, the threshold for being diagnosed with an AUD is actually quite low. For this reason, many of the college students who qualify — and therefore are in need of treatment — are unaware they do. And unfortunately, this means they’re open to some permanent consequences of alcohol abuse in college.

Alcohol and the Young Adult Brain

Brain development typically finishes at or after age 24, meaning most college students who drink are actively changing the way their brain develops—and it’s certainly not for the better. Among the negative long-term effects of binge drinking as a college student are:

  • Impaired memory function
  • Impaired visual learning
  • Brain shrinkage

That’s right, binge drinking can actually shrink your brain! It also can also lead to a lesser-known result: type 2 diabetes. In a recent study, rats were given substantial daily doses of ethanol in order to mimic real-life binge drinking by humans. Surprisingly, over time they became resistant to insulin—a troubling development as insulin resistance is a marker for type 2 diabetes. If your body is resistant to insulin, you can’t regulate glucose levels in your blood, and that can lead to all kinds of secondary effects such as:

  • Heart disease consequences of binge drinking in college
  • Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Stroke
  • Blindness

Binge drinking causes insulin resistance by blocking the signals of insulin receptors in the brain. This is significant because it suggests alcohol might interrupt metabolism due to neurotoxic effects in the brain, rather than the liver. Needless to say, finding the link between binge drinking and diabetes is a huge deal, and yet another incentive for college students to lay off the alcohol.

Accessing Alcohol Education

One of the biggest factors in the staggering number of college binge drinkers is a lack of education surrounding the topic. Students may not be aware of what a standard drink is, what constitutes binge drinking, or college binge drinking effects. For this reason, the most important thing for any college student to do is learn effective strategies for safe and responsible drinking before binge consumption becomes a problem. Here are some quick tips on how to stay safe while drinking and avoid the pressure to binge.

  • Know your limit. If you’re new to drinking, take the time to find out what your limits are, rather than just gulping drinks until you realize you’re drunk. By slowing down and paying attention to your impairment level, you can learn when to stop and take a break from drinking without finding out the hard way.
  • Eat while you drink. To prevent your body from absorbing alcohol too quickly—and therefore causing dangerous levels of impairment—consume your beverages with a meal. Foods that are high in protein, like cheese or meat, are especially good at regulating alcohol absorption.
  • Only accept drinks you want. If you’re at a party, it can be easy to take whatever drinks come your way, especially because they may be new and interesting. However, that’s a quick recipe for disaster. Be discerning about what drinks you do and don’t accept. Only accept a drink when you actually want one—not because someone is saying you should.
  • Beware of unfamiliar drinks. It can be tempting to try one of those fun-looking colored drinks with a crazy name, but be sure you know what’s in it! Mixed drinks are notorious for hiding impressively high alcohol contents behind fruity flavors. If you choose to try something new, make sure you know how many standard drinks are in it to avoid unexpected levels of impairment.
  • Find a designated driver. Always have a designated driver with you. Having a specified person stay sober is a great step to take to keep yourself safe. It will also prevent you from getting stuck somewhere you might not want to stay and keep you out of the driver’s seat.

It’s not hard to pick up helpful habits that will allow college students to drink responsibly, but most are woefully unprepared to fend for themselves in an environment where over half of their peers binge drink. There’s only so much university administration can do to reach out to students on the topic of alcohol, so it’s up to parents and kids to get the education they need.

Treating AUDs in College Students

Unfortunately, not all students are equipped to deal with the availability of alcohol and the pressure to drink, and they go on to develop alcohol dependence. The good news is treating addiction in young adults is definitely doable, and it gives them a strong foundation with which to face the temptation of alcohol abuse in the future. Only 11% of people who need help treating addiction ever actually receive formal treatment—and that is in large part because they don’t necessarily understand what treatment entails. Here’s what you can expect:

  • Detox. The first and most crucial phase of addiction treatment is detoxification. This is your body’s process of flushing out all the addictive substances, and it’s certainly unpleasant. When people try to quit “cold turkey”, this is the phase in which they fail. Detox at a rehab facility is different — you’re supervised by medical professionals who ensure you’re as comfortable and nutritionally complete as you can be. This makes the rest of the treatment process possible and increases the chance of a successful recovery.
  • Therapy. Though there are multiple types of therapy you may receive, they all identify the roots and triggers that govern your substance use disorder. You will be working with a clinical professional who can help you develop strong strategies to avoid alcohol abuse and facilitate your healing from the pain of addiction.
  • Group work. Socializing is an integral facet of the human experience, and participating in group therapy with others in your situation is a powerful tool for healing. In group work, you’ll share stories and strategies, participate in role-playing exercises, and maybe even make some friends who will stay in your sober network after treatment.
  • Activities. Rehab treatment puts an emphasis on fostering healthy habits you can take with you after treatment. This means participating in things such as exercise classes, meditation, or other productive activities. Art and music therapy are also effective in helping individuals explore recovery. The idea is to pursue hobbies that will support recovery by nurturing body, mind, or both.

Clarity for the Path Ahead

Anyone suffering the consequences of alcohol addiction can benefit from going to rehab, but not all treatment centers are created equal. At our alcohol rehab center in Hanover, PA, your comfort is on par with your recovery. With elegant and private rooms, a peaceful and beautiful location, and amenities tailored to your every need, we offer a path to recovery that focuses on your entire experience—not just the expert treatment. Relax in the salon, sunroom, or sauna, or get your heart pumping in our state-of-the-art fitness facilities. We take nutrition to the next level by employing the services of an executive chef and offering the use of the full-service kitchen during designated hours. If you’re the type to benefit from creative expression, you’ll love our art and music studios. There’s even a recreation room for use in downtime, to help remind you that it’s okay—and healthy—to have fun in recovery. Our intentionally small program only accepts up to 17 clients at a time, so rest assured knowing this fully staffed facility has your individualized needs in mind. If you’re ready to step out of addiction and into the healthy and sober life you deserve, contact us today.

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