Binge Drinking In College

College Binge Drinking and Alcoholism

Many people see drinking as a kind of normal part of college life.  Most young adults who go to college are living away from parental supervision for the first time.  With alcohol readily available on most college campuses, it’s not surprising that many young adults engage in risky behavior surrounding alcohol.  Even young people who began drinking in high school or earlier may increase the amount of alcohol that they consume, often to the point of binge drinking, in which the person drinks so much that they pass out.  The question to be discussed here is whether or not this binge drinking leads to Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) or alcoholism.

What is Binge Drinking?

There is no universally accepted definition of binge drinking.  Some common side effects are:

  • Decreased judgment and critical thinking while intoxicated
  • Decreased coordination both short-term and long-term
  • Increased likelihood of being the victim of assaults
  • Increase in risky sexual behaviors
  • Potential for alcohol poisoning
  • Short and long-term memory loss
  • Alcohol-related traffic fatalities

What Causes Alcoholism?

There is no single cause for the development of AUD or alcoholism.  Rather, a complex mix of causes is at the root of alcohol abuse.  Genetic factors play a role, but so do environmental factors, such as:

  • The person’s social group.
  • Values instilled in them by their parents.
  • Llevel of alcohol use by parents and other respected adults and the larger social environment where they reside.
  • Availability of alcohol plays a role in how much the young adult drinks.
  • A person’s values and choices are an important factor in how the person uses alcohol.

To isolate one particular part of this complex reality and state that it is the cause of AUD or alcoholism is, at best, simplistic.

Unfortunately, warning young adults about the dangers of excessive drinking does not have a strong impact on their decisions about drinking.  There are plenty of things to warn these young people about.  Nearly 2,000 students die every year due to alcohol abuse.  During that same time span, 100,00 students become the victims of alcohol-influenced sexual assault and more than half a million students are injured while drunk.  A fourth of students admit that drinking negatively impacts their academic performance. These young people know the risks, but binge drinking has not decreased for the past 20 years and about 20% of college students meet the criteria for AUD.

There are two major reasons why warnings and statistics fail to impact the level of drinking that college students engage in.  First is the reality that the part of the brain which enables the person to exert control over desires and urges is still developing.  They are not yet able to exercise full control and discretion regarding their lives.  The second reason is the college environment.  Since many college students are legally able to buy alcohol, it is readily available to any student who wants to drink.  Additionally, students who are members of fraternities are more likely to abuse alcohol than their peers who are not members.

Signs of Problem Drinking

Recreational drinking crosses the line into risky drinking when a person experiences the following:

  • Continued drinking despite negative consequences
  • Blackouts
  • Drinking and driving
  • Behaving in ways you later regret while drinking
  • Others have expressed concern about your drinking
  • Legal consequences as a result of drinking
  • Suffering from physical dependence symptoms such as shaking, sweating and anxiety
  • Increased tolerance
  • Withdrawals

It cannot be said that binge drinking leads to alcohol abuse or alcoholism, but it can contribute to the problem. Seeking help for alcohol-related problems is the best way to avoid more serious problems down the road.

Getting Help

If you or somebody you know experience some of the signs of problem drinking, get help.  The problem won’t get better on its own, and nobody should feel ashamed if they need help with their drinking.