Alcohol Abuse in College Students - Dangers of Binge Drinking
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Alcohol Abuse in College Students


Alcohol abuse and binge drinking is a common problem with students that attend college and university. After years of following a rigid timetable at school, students suddenly find they have a new freedom level with very few boundaries.

Millions of students worldwide every year approximately 4 out of 5 experiment with alcohol to some degree.

Peer pressure, the desire to fit in and with little adult supervision, students can often believe that getting drunk is part of university culture.

How Can Rehab Guide Help?


  • Receive anonymous advice from one of our experienced addiction counsellors
  • Be directed to local addiction support groups near you
  • We can arrange a meeting with a local sponsor to help you through the initial stage of recovery
  • Provide you with a list of recommended addiction counsellors in your area
  • Provide alcohol detoxication advice
  • Refer you to a recommended rehabilitation facility

As many as 1 in 5 English students are likely to suffer from a diagnosable Alcohol Use Disorder. (1)

As a parent with a child attending a college or university, naturally, there will be some anxieties around your child’s newfound freedom and the potential consequences of alcohol.

In this article, we look at the dangers of college students and drinking and how to spot if your child (or you as a student) has a problem with alcohol that requires professional help.

Dangerous drinking levels identified in 40% of English students

Despite continuing alcohol awareness and harm reduction campaigns, in a survey conducted in seven English Universities, alcohol consumption statistics showed 40% of students admitted to drinking to ‘hazardous’ levels. 11% of students were identified as ‘harmful drinkers with a further 10% qualifying as ‘probably alcohol dependent’. (1)

The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) was conducted on a total of 770 student participants.

The AUDIT concluded that amongst English universities, many students were drinking alcohol to harmful levels, with one in five likely to suffer from a diagnosable Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). (1)

It was further found that students drinking alcohol in universities in the north of England had the highest alcohol consumption rates. (1)

College, binge drinking & the teenage brain

Many Universities and colleges have a binge drinking culture, with a night out starting by students ‘preloading’, a term used for drinking alcohol before going out.

Students may also be subjected to initiations and the hazards of drinking games that invariably involves imbibing large amounts of alcohol, often to what may be considered unsafe levels.

Pubs and bars local to college campuses further encourage binge drinking by offering special deals on alcoholic drinks to students.

Binge drinking carries many risks, not only in its short term effects but can also cause damage to the brain, which is long-lasting.

The human brain continues to grow and develop until the age of 25.  Whilst it is still forming, the brain is especially susceptible to damage from chemicals and toxins. (2)

illustration of teenage brain

Regardless of how intelligent a person is, whilst the prefrontal cortex part of the brain is still maturing, good decision-making, common sense, and judgment are yet to develop fully.

Students who drink regularly are more likely to make decisions without considering the possible risks and consequences. This is because the teenage brain works differently from the adult brain.

The adult brain thinks with the prefrontal cortex, which is fully developed – the brain’s rational part. Whereas teenagers process information with the amygdala – the emotional part of the brain.

Teenagers often experience overwhelming emotions and are more likely to act on impulse without considering their actions’ and possible implications.

Under the influence of alcohol, a teenager is more likely to lose all perspective on rational thinking and take great risks with their wellbeing.

What is considered binge drinking?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as consuming enough alcohol, resulting in a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.08 g/dL and above. (3)

binge drinking

For adult women, that’s an average of 4 drinks in the space of 2 hours, and for adult men, 5 drinks in two hours. In teenagers and children, it is similar or less depending on age. (3)

The human liver is only able to process 1 unit of alcohol per hour. A student who binges will put duress on their liver by causing a backlog of units to build up, resulting in it taking longer for alcohol to leave their system.

Whilst binge drinking does not necessarily mean that a person has an alcohol use disorder, a study conducted in 2002 found that teenagers who engaged in heavy drinking had a higher incidence of drug and alcohol abuse, addiction and dependence than those who did not. (4)


Many studies by scientists and medical professionals have found that a person is more susceptible to developing AUD if they abuse alcohol during their teenage and student years.

If you are a parent, friend or partner of a college student and are worried about their drinking, here are signs to watch out for that could indicate an alcohol problem.Signs of alcohol abuse in college students

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Many students that attend college are under the legal drinking age of 18 in the UK. However, this does not stop them from experimenting with substances and potentially developing unhealthy drinking habits.

Signs a college student has a drinking problem:

  • Frequent intoxication and smelling of alcohol – even the following day. This indicates that they are drinking more than their body can process in one episode
  • Decreased energy and motivation levels
  • Placing going out and drinking above their studies and exams (i.e. drinking heavily the night before an important exam)
  • Reduced academic performance
  • Behaviour problems at college or university that are new
  • Decreased interest in activities and hobbies they used to enjoy
  • Changes in appearance – weight gain or weight loss, loss of interest in hygiene and appearance
  • Frequent hangovers – They spend a lot of time recovering from drinking episodes
  • Displaying withdrawal symptoms such as tremors in their hands and coordination problems – Symptoms of dependence
  • Frequent slurred speech
  • Trouble recalling events, appointments, lessons and studies – Developing issues with memory and experiencing alcoholic blackouts
  • Severe mood swings
  • Finding alcohol in their belongings that they have attempted to hide
  • Changing their group of friends, moving away from healthy friendships.

Any major changes in a person’s behaviour, mood or appearance should not be ignored. Even if alcohol is not responsible for the change, they are likely experiencing problems with their mental or physical health or substance abuse issues.

The dangers of binge drinking in college students

College students are more prone to suffer from adverse effects from drinking due to their brain still developing.

How partying affects college students:

  • Suffering from alcoholic poisoning. A potentially deadly condition that is essentially alcohol overdose
  • Regular heavy drinking can lead to dependence and addiction
  • Being vulnerable whilst under the influence of alcohol. Students are at far higher risk of violence, sexual assault, rape and accidents
  • College students are more likely to experiment with drugs when drinking as their rational judgment and decision-making are impaired. This can easily lead to overdose, coma and death
  • Regular binge drinking can lead to falling behind in their studies and less likely to complete their college course
  • Binge drinking carries long term risks to mental and physical health
  • Frequently drinking too much increases the risk of liver damage, several cancers, memory loss and brain damage.
  • Heavy drinking regularly at a young age can stop the brain from fully forming and cause damage to tissues, cells and the brain’s pathways
  • Consuming too much alcohol leads to increased risk-taking and poor decision making. This, in turn, can lead to contracting STDs, STIs and unwanted pregnancies
  • Under the influence of alcohol, a student is more likely to get in trouble with the law by drink driving or committing another offence
  • Students that drink often are more likely to turn to illicitly obtained prescription pills, including stimulants so that they can function at college. (5)

What to do if you suspect a college student has a drinking problem

If you as a parent, carer, friend, or partner suspect a college student has developed a drinking problem, you mustn’t ignore the problem hoping that it is just a phase. Problematic drinking often starts during the teenage and early adulthood years.

Alcohol Use Disorders are medically recognised and respond well to treatment. However, left untreated, they only ever become progressively worse.

We recommend that you speak to them when they are sober to process what you have to say. Try to speak to them on a one-to-one basis and keep your manner calm and non-judgemental.

Provide them with the facts about alcoholism, the potential dangers of binge drinking and present your concerns. If they are defensive or deny they have a problem, then an alcohol intervention may be required.

You can also call us at Rehab Guide for help and support. We will carry out a free and confidential assessment of their drinking habits and advise the appropriate professional treatment required to help them recover.

Alcohol education helps prevent problem drinking at college

If you have a child that is soon to start college or university, it is important to educate them around the risks of drinking heavily, and You can find many useful pages relating to these subjects on our site.

Assure your child that they can approach you if they have any concerns around drinking or experimenting with drugs. Ensure that you know the college’s alcohol policy and who to contact if you are concerned.

Offer additional support and guidance, especially through the first few months of starting college. This is when they will be forming friendships and social activities.

Many students give in to peer pressure, so it is wise to discuss some practical tips on dealing with this issue. (6)

Alcohol treatment for students

Most UK rehabs are legally only licensed to treat adults aged 18 and over. However, there are many other successful treatment options available that we can provide.

At Rehab Guide, we specialise in bespoke alcohol treatment programmes, and only work with qualified practitioners and CQC registered treatment centres.

Our addiction treatment experts will advise a suitable treatment plan to support a student in overcoming a drinking problem by calling us; we can also support you as a parent or loved one of someone who is suffering.

Call us today to find out more about our alcohol treatment programmes, alcohol interventions and detox programmes.

 

 

References:

1. Alcohol and Alcoholism Vol. 46, No. 3, pp. 270–277, 2011 doi: 10.1093/alcalc/agr024 Advance Access Publication 29 March 2011
COGNITIVE ASPECTS – Alcohol Use Disorders and Hazardous Drinking among Undergraduates at English Universities
Nick Heather1,*, Sarah Partington1, Elizabeth Partington1, Fran Longstaff1, Susan Allsop1, Mark Jankowski1, Helen Wareham2 and Alan St Clair Gibson1
2. Understanding the teen Brain https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=3051
3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (2019). Drinking Levels Defined
4. Chassin, L., Pitts, S. C., & Prost, J. (2002). Binge drinking trajectories from adolescence to emerging adulthood in a high-risk sample: predictors and substance abuse outcomes. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 70(1), 67.
5. Underage drinking Centre for Disease Control and Prevention CDC – https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/underage-drinking.htm
6. College drinking fact sheet for parents https://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/parentsandstudents/parents/FactSheets/ParentFactSheet.aspx

 

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