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While underage college drinking may seem like a rite of passage for young adults attending college, it can cause significant harm and lead to long-term implications for a young person with their whole life ahead of them.
According to the National Institute of Health on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), harmful underage drinking is a significant public health problem that impacts the development of the brain, as well as students’ mental well-being and academic success.
The college environment increases the likelihood of binge drinking and potentially more harmful drinking, leading to alcohol use disorder. Students often find themselves in a culture that encourages binge drinking, and many see drinking as a large component of their college experience.
A national survey on drug use and health, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), revealed:
There are various types of harmful drinking, such as binge drinking and alcohol use disorder.
According to the NIAAA, binge drinking is defined as a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after four drinks for women and five drinks for men over about two hours.
The factors contributing to binge drinking in college include unstructured time, the widespread availability of alcohol, lack of enforcement of underage drinking laws, limited supervision, peer influence, expectations of and stressors on students, and social pressures.
According to the National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, the potential consequences of binge drinking include academic problems, driving under the influence, assault, sexual abuse, injury, property damage, unsafe sex, health problems, suicide attempts, involvement with the police, and death.
A study was conducted to determine the magnitude and trends of alcohol-related consequences stemming from harmful and underage drinking. It revealed that each year among college students between the ages of 18 to 24:
According to the NIAAA, thousands of students are taken to the emergency room each year with alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning occurs when high levels of alcohol suppress vital systems in the body as it struggles to expel toxins. This is a serious condition that can result in permanent brain damage and even death. Signs of alcohol poisoning are:
If a person is showing any of these signs, they should seek immediate medical attention and call 911.
Persistent binge drinking can lead to alcohol use disorder (AUD). According to the NIAAA, AUD is defined as “a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using.”
Alcohol use disorder is a serious medical condition affecting an estimated 14.8 million Americans (SAMHSA, 2019). According to the NIAAA, an estimated 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
20 percent of college students meet the criteria for AUD, which are:
If you or your loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms, you should seek help from a medical professional who can perform an assessment and recommend treatment options.
Attending college can be extremely stressful, especially with coercion from peers to binge drink, impending deadlines, lack of sleep, and feeling completely overwhelmed.
According to the American Psychological Association, 61 percent of college students seeking counseling report experiencing anxiety, and the American Institute of Stress reports that eight out of 10 students suffer from frequent stress. A further study showed that having parents with alcohol use disorder was a significant predictor of stress for college students.
Despite nearly 20 percent of students suffering with AUD, only 1.2 percent received treatment for it.
Student pressures at the start of the academic year, as well as social pressures, mean that the first six weeks of freshman year are the most vulnerable time for students to begin binge drinking and suffer its related consequences. According to NIAAA, students attending schools with strong Greek systems and prominent athletic programs are said to drink more heavily than students in other types of schools. What’s more, students living in fraternities and sororities consume the highest amount of alcohol. Students who live with their families have the lowest level of alcohol consumption.
While college can lead to stress and feelings of being overwhelmed, it is entirely possible for students to manage that stress effectively. Solutions include prioritizing sleep, meditation and breathing exercises, using planning tools and schedulers, finding mutual aid groups, exercising, practicing yoga, eating well, and finding a creative outlet.
The best approach toward reducing problematic drinking is implementing college-wide strategies:
NIH has produced an interactive guide called CollegeAIM, a resource designed to help schools and colleges address underage student drinking. It lists many alcohol interventions, counseling options, and policies. More information can be found here.
College drinking causes serious and sometimes fatal consequences. Don’t let harmful drinking get in the way of your life’s potential. Take action now. Call us today to see how we can help you or your loved one overcome their problem with alcohol and/or drugs: 866-358-6446.
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