How Do You Know When College Drinking Has Become a Problem?

How Do You Know When College Drinking Has Become a Problem?

Drinking has become part of the culture for college students in America. Studies have found that college students drink significantly more than their non-matriculating peers. One national survey found that nearly 60 percent of college students drank alcohol in the past month and two thirds of those reported binge drinking–which is defined as four drinks in a sitting for women and five for men–in the past month. Although we mostly accept college drinking as normal, there are many negative consequences from drinking on campus. More than 1,800 college students die each year from alcohol-related accidents and many more are seriously injured. There are nearly 700,000 assaults reported each year that involve drinking as well as about 97,000 sexual assaults. What’s more, about 20 percent of college students meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder, about twice the rate of the general public. Here are some signs that college drinking has become a problem.

Dropping grades

One of the first signs that alcohol use is becoming a problem is dropping grades. Around one in four students report academic problems as a result of drinking. These include missing class, falling behind on coursework, doing poorly on tests and papers, and getting lower grades overall.

One study from Penn State’s Center for the Study of Collegiate Mental Health found there was an inverse correlation between drinking and grades. More than 15,000 students responded to survey questions about binge drinking. The researchers found that students who reported not binge-drinking in the past two weeks had an average GPA of 3.19–a solid B. Students who reported binge-drinking once in the past two weeks fared a little worse with a GPA of 3.11. That’s not a huge difference, but your GPA continues to drop the more you drink. Students who binge-drank three to five times in the past two weeks had a GPA of 3.04 and students who binge-drank 10 or more times had an average GPA of 2.95.

Skipping class

As noted above, about a quarter of college students have academic problems as a result of alcohol use and among those problems is missing class. There are several reasons missing class because of drinking is something to be concerned about. First and foremost is that class is why you’re in college. If you’re skipping class to drink or missing class because you’re hungover, it indicates your priorities are out of order. It also indicates you are probably binge-drinking three or more times a week and possibly that you start drinking during the day.

Disciplinary action

As noted above, the consequences of college drinking include 700,000 assaults every year and more than 97,000 sexual assaults in addition to thousands of alcohol-related accidents and deaths. Often, these assaults and accidents will lead either to disciplinary action by the college or university or legal troubles such as a DUI or assault charges. If you find yourself in trouble as a result of your drinking, it’s not likely it was a fluke. That is, you’re not likely to get pulled over the one time you drive drunk; you are much more likely to get pulled over if it’s a pattern. Disciplinary action or legal trouble is a big red flag that your drinking has become a problem.

Even if you don’t get a DUI or face disciplinary action, you may run into problems because of low grades. Most institutions will put students on academic probation if their grades drop too low. You may lose scholarships or become ineligible for grants or loans. You may eventually get expelled.

Needing alcohol to relax

Many students have a work-hard-play-hard attitude toward drinking. They feel like if they study hard during the week, they’ve earned a little fun on the weekend. However, if you need alcohol to relax, it may indicate a problem. First, it’s probably an indication that you lack healthy coping skills. College can be incredibly stressful, with too much coursework, family pressure, and high stakes, such as getting scholarships, internships, and a good job after graduation. It’s normal to feel stressed. However, drinking is not a sustainable way to cope with that stress and it often ends up increasing your anxiety.

Needing alcohol to relax is also an indication that you may have a physical dependence. Alcohol helps you relax because it enhances the effect of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA and dampens the effect of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. However, your body soon adjusts to the effects of alcohol so that you need to drink just to feel normal. At this point, you’ve developed a dependence on alcohol.

Developing a tolerance

Another way of saying you’ve developed a dependence is saying you’ve developed a tolerance. Since having some amount of alcohol in your system is the new normal, you have to drink even more to feel the effects. If you notice you have to drink more to get a buzz or get drunk, it’s a clear sign you’ve started to develop a dependence.

Showing signs of addiction

We’ve already covered some of the major signs of addiction such as prioritizing drinking over more important things like attending class or studying, developing a dependence, and continuing to drink despite negative consequences like dropping grades or disciplinary action. Other signs include lying or being deceptive about how much you drink, borrowing or stealing money to buy alcohol, and perhaps most importantly, trying to quit but being unable to.

Just because college drinking is common doesn’t mean it can’t become a problem. If you or a loved one has a problem with alcohol, we can help you create a plan for recovery. At Patrick Hart Consultants, we provide a number of different services to fit the needs of each individual client. Among these, are helping you choose a treatment provider, helping you develop a treatment plan, helping you establish post-treatment support, and ensuring continuity among the different elements of treatment. Contact us today at 844-2627970 or or explore our website for more information.

AUTHOR: Patrick Hart Consultants