Alcohol Use and Abuse
Being in college can be one of the most exciting times of your life! Along with learning about engineering, business, or graphic design, you are also learning a great deal about yourself. Most traditional college students are transitioning into adulthood, which includes making choices about your major, developing new relationships, and drinking alcohol. This may also be true for non-traditional students who are coming to college for the first time, or returning after a long absence. How you choose to consume alcohol can have a tremendous impact on your success during, and after, college. We want to encourage you to gather as much information about alcohol use as you can, in order to make your decision an informed one. In that regard, we are presenting some basic information about alcohol use here, as well as some links to off-campus websites.
Why Do People Drink?
Students give many different reasons for why they may drink. Some students say they drink because of peer pressure and to be part of a crowd. Some use alcohol to avoid difficult situations that may arise at school and work and with family and friends. Others use alcohol to avoid uncomfortable feelings, like anxiety or sadness. Anyone who drinks runs the risk of developing an alcohol problem. A serious problem can develop quickly, especially among college students.
How Do I Know If I Have A Drinking Problem?
Below is a set of questions designed to help you find out if alcohol use may be a problem:
- Do you prefer to drink alone rather than with others?
- Does your drinking cause problems with school (e.g., falling grades) or at work (e.g., being late)?
- Do you drink to escape your problems?
- When you drink, do you get very emotional?
- Do you ever have memory loss or blackouts due to drinking?
- When you drink, do you often get drunk even when you did not mean to drink to excess?
- Do you find that you have to drink more and more to get the same effect?
- Do you get into trouble with the law or injure yourself when you drink?
If you answered "yes" to one or more of these questions, you may have a drinking problem. If you have a drinking problem, or suspect that you have one, there are many others out there like you. As a matter of fact, more than 10 million people suffer from alcoholism.
What Effects Can Alcohol Have On Me?
Immediate physical effects from alcohol include: loss of muscle control, impaired reflexes, vomiting, and unconsciousness. Because alcohol goes directly into the bloodstream, overuse of alcohol can affect almost every system in the body. Long-term use can cause cancer, brain damage, cirrhosis of the liver, weight gain, and birth defects if drinking while pregnant. Excessive drinking can also cause serious accidents, injuries, and death. For example, more than one out of every three motor vehicle fatalities involves alcohol and one out of every four drowning deaths are alcohol-related.
Alcohol can have psychological effects as well. It can affect your school work and family and social relationships. Studies have shown that students who drink alcohol to excess end up with poorer school grades and take a longer time to complete their degrees. Because alcohol lowers inhibitions and impairs judgment, risky and violent behavior can result. For example, students impaired by alcohol often engage in vandalism and physical fights. Friendships and romantic relationships can also be jeopardized. Alcohol can lead people to say or do things they might regret, like making a bad decision about having sex with someone. Alcohol abuse can also lead to family conflicts and broken households.
One does not have to be using alcohol to be damaged by its effects. Children and partners of alcoholics can be seriously affected too. Family members and other loved ones often suffer from psychological symptoms, including low self-esteem, depression, health problems, and relationship problems, like difficulties getting close to others. They may also find themselves minimizing the severity of their loved one's problem, feeling responsible for the problem, or feeling a lot of anger, shame, and resentment.
In addition, family and friends of alcoholics may display their own addictive behaviors. Being related to an alcoholic or living with an alcoholic puts one at greater risk for alcoholism and other addictions, including gambling and overeating. Finally, family and friends who are close to an alcoholic often take on their responsibilities, attempting to function for them in ways that are often unhealthy. This is commonly known as "codependency" and includes feelings of having lost control over one's own emotions and behavior.
How Can I Get Help?
Help is available and easy to find!
There are many different types of treatments to help those whose lives are affected by alcohol. For severe alcohol addictions, there are detoxification programs that require the alcoholic to stay in a hospital or a treatment center. There are also programs that treat the problem at a clinic that the patient can attend daily. Once the physical addiction is addressed, follow-up treatment is always recommended.
Treatments for detoxified patients and those with less severe problems include individual, family, or couple's therapy. Support groups are also available for sufferers of alcoholism and their family members or loved ones. If you are a student at Drexel University, you can contact The Haven at Drexel at 267.223.5203 for information about education and support services, or call the Counseling Center at 215.895.1415 to schedule an appointment with a therapist.
Other resources include:
Avoiding alcohol problems
- Alcohol use and abuse are preventable.
- Get educated. Know the facts. Once you do, you will realize that it is not worth endangering your career, your health, your relationships, and your future.
- Avoid peer pressure. Think ahead about how to say "no."
- Avoid situations where people will be drinking. Get involved in non-drinking activities.
- Confront your problem if you have one.
- Get help for the underlying problems of family, relationships, anxiety or depression.
- Educate others.
Expressing concern about alcohol abuse
- Approach your friend out of concern for their well-being.
- Do NOT try to talk with your friend if he or she is under the influence of alcohol. Find the right time and place where there is privacy and all participants are clean and sober.
- Being honest, direct, non-judgmental, and brief is the best overall approach to addressing concerns about alcohol use.
- Clearly express to your friend that the reason for talking is due to your care and concern for him or her regarding their alcohol use, as well as their health, safety, and success while at Drexel.
- Your role is to simply help your friend "see what you see" regarding his/her use. Specifically describe the behaviors and consequences that you have witnessed and that are factual. Stick to observable, irrefutable facts. ("Last Tuesday night you were drunk and missed your exam the next day... You also vomited three times and didn’t remember any of it the next day.")
- Use "I" statements to describe how these behaviors have affected you and/or others. ("I am frustrated with the disruptions when you drink and get out of control," or "I am worried that you may not last in school since you are missing so many classes.")
- Be very careful not to use labels and assumptions, such as "you have a problem" or "you drink too much." Any judgmental words and/or "tones" will defeat your purpose and will likely be received with strong resistance and denial (they sound blaming).
- Suggest appropriate actions for support and assistance that are available on campus. An appointment can be made at the Counseling Center in person or by calling 215.895.1415. Another option is to accompany the student to the Counseling Center, if they are unsure about going. Your conversation may also serve as a beginning point for further contact about the issue, or even as a warning for additional action.
- Expect some resistance, anger and denial when expressing concern about alcohol use. Do not take the anger personally. It is just a defense mechanism that the drinker is using to protect their way of life and/or the result of the person's fear of change.
- Anger and defensiveness do not mean that your appropriate expressions of concern are not being heard. If there is no immediate result, the cumulative effect of similar messages over time may eventually lead the person to seek help/make changes.
- Above all, you are strongly encouraged to seek support, assistance, and consultation from the Counseling Center when considering approaching a student due to concerns about substance abuse.
Alcohol: The Facts
What are its short-term effects?
- When a person drinks alcohol, the alcohol is absorbed by the stomach, enters the bloodstream, and goes to all the tissues. The effects of alcohol are dependent on a variety of factors, including a person's size, weight, age and sex, as well as the amount of food and alcohol consumed. The disinhibiting effect of alcohol is one of the main reasons it is used in so many social situations. Other effects of moderate alcohol intake include dizziness and talkativeness; the immediate effects of a larger amount of alcohol include slurred speech, disturbed sleep, nausea, and vomiting. Alcohol, even at low doses, significantly impairs the judgment and coordination required to drive a car safely. Low to moderate doses of alcohol can also increase the incidence of a variety of aggressive acts, including domestic violence and child abuse. Hangovers are another possible effect after large amounts of alcohol are consumed; a hangover consists of headache, nausea, thirst, dizziness and fatigue.
What are its long-term effects?
- Prolonged, heavy use of alcohol can lead to addiction (alcoholism). Sudden cessation of long-term, extensive alcohol intake is likely to produce withdrawal symptoms, including severe anxiety, tremors, hallucinations, and convulsions. Long-term effects of consuming large quantities of alcohol, especially when combined with poor nutrition, can lead to permanent damage to vital organs such as the brain and liver. In addition, mothers who drink alcohol during pregnancy may give birth to infants with fetal alcohol syndrome. These infants may suffer from mental retardation and other irreversible physical abnormalities. In addition, research indicates that children of alcoholic parents are at greater risk than other children of becoming alcoholics.
Think you know the facts about alcohol abuse?
- If you consume alcoholic beverages, it's important to know whether your drinking patterns are safe, risky or harmful. If you haven't done so already, you may want to take this Alcohol Assessment Quiz.
MYTH: Hangovers are no big deal
- FACT: A hangover is the body's reaction to being poisoned with too much alcohol. Heavy drinking rocks the central nervous system. It tinkers with brain chemicals — leading to headache, dizziness, and nausea — and sends you running to the bathroom so often you become dehydrated. The morning-after price of this imbalance can include a pounding headache, fatigue, cotton mouth, queasy stomach, and a weakened immune system.
MYTH: Only bingers get hangovers
- FACT: While it's true that binge drinking could speed your way to a hangover, you don't have to get wasted to pay the price the next morning. Depending on your body composition, just a couple of drinks can trigger a headache and other hangover symptoms. Having water or a nonalcoholic drink between each beer or hard drink can help keep you hydrated and reduce the overall amount of alcohol you consume.
MYTH: Wine is the gentlest choice
- FACT: Red wine contains tannins, compounds that are known to trigger headaches in some people. Malt liquors, like whiskey, also tend to produce more severe hangovers. If you're worried about how you'll feel in the morning, the gentlest choices are beer and clear liquors, such as vodka and gin.
MYTH: Liquor before beer
- FACT: It's not whether you have a shot of whiskey before or after your beer that's important. It's the amount of alcohol you consume (not the order of your drinks) that matters most. A standard drink — be it a 12-ounce glass of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or a 1.5-ounce shot of distilled spirits — all contain roughly the same amount of alcohol. Don't be fooled by the size of your drink or any saying about alcohol use that includes the phrase "never fear."
MYTH: Alcohol poisoning is not a big deal
- FACT: Alcohol poisoning is a potentially deadly medical emergency. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:
- Confusion, stupor
- Slow, irregular breathing
- Low body temperature, bluish skin
It's easy to blow off these symptoms as the price of partying hard, but if you see someone vomit multiple times or pass out after drinking heavily, there's a risk of severe dehydration or brain damage. Ensure the person is taken to the nearest emergency room immediately.
Basics About Blood Alcohol Level
Calculate your own Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAL)