Head to Head: College drinking patterns display early stages of alcoholism

Shay Rego

Editor’s Note: The views expressed in the following column are those of the writer only and do not necessarily represent the views of The Collegian or its editorial board.

This is a head to head column. Read the opposing view here.

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Many college students use their rigorous workload as an excuse to day drink or spend weekends downing a bottle of liquor. All this excessive drinking is normalized as typical college behavior when it’s actually encouraging alcoholism and creating young alcoholics.

Typical college drinking patterns are in fact forms of alcoholism. While these drinking patterns may not be extreme forms of alcoholism, it’s alcohol abuse in its early stages.

It’s the commonality of these drinking patterns which normalizes it, not allowing students to realize the reality of being an alcoholic.

Alcoholism is a spectrum ranging from frequent social drinking to high-functioning. Binge drinking is the most common drinking behavior among college participants. This habit is an early form of alcoholism which can later develop into something more severe. According to the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, 20 percent of college students meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorder-5 (DSM-5) uses a set of 11 factors to determine the severity of an alcohol use disorder. If a person experiences at least two of the 11 factors, this is considered a diagnosis of mild alcohol disorder. Binge drinkers usually fit this criteria.

While binge drinking may seem more applicable to social drinking situations, Alcohol Rehab Guide argues that an increasing number of young adults are just drinking to get drunk despite the occasion. Alcohol.org also categorizes social drinking and binge drinking as the first stage of alcoholism.

This is not to say all binge drinkers all alcoholics, but that binge drinking is a form of alcoholism. Unlike high-functioning alcoholism where a consumer may depend on it daily to function, binge drinkers may be emotionally dependent. Binge drinkers can go long periods without drinking, but once they start they cannot stop.

According to the Mayo Clinic, having a high tolerance, problems controlling one’s drinking and continuing to use alcohol despite its negative effects are traits associated with binge drinkers and alcoholics.

Binge drinking also has long-term effects which carry out past the college years. The behavior itself may last well past graduation. Binge drinking can lead to alcohol poisoning, insomnia, high blood pressure, low blood sugar and, more severely, death.

My colleague Katrina Leibee may argue that college drinking patterns are not a form of alcoholism. College drinking patterns may not express all traits of full-blown alcoholism, like that of high-functioning alcoholics, but they are still in early stages of development.

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While college drinking patterns may be common and seem like a passing phase, they have already developed young alcoholics or at least caused alcohol use disorders beyond what we may expect.

Not every college drinker is an alcoholic, but every alcoholic who is a college drinker may not even be aware of their situation.

Shay Rego can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter at @shay_rego.