When Social Drinking Becomes Something More: Alcoholism in College


Crippling Consequences

While most heavy drinkers accept that they’ll likely be hungover in the morning, many forget to consider the more serious long-term physical and mental consequences of drinking. “When I was drinking, I felt sloshy, sluggish, and very stressed, all the time,” says Ryann. “I wasn’t motivated to do anything, which was so out of character for me. I was on the verge of a mini-meltdown almost every night.” In addition to increased stress and a lack of motivation, other mental side effects of consistent heavy drinking include depression, dementia, anxiety, and insomnia. Aside from the obvious physical side effects, such as heart disease and liver cirrhosis, habitual drinkers may also suffer from an increased risk of various cancers, including breast, mouth, and esophageal cancer, as well as malnutrition.
Help Is On The Horizon

If you or a friend is a heavy drinker, you may feel hopeless and at a loss as to what your next step should be. First, it’s important to remember that alcoholism is a disease, not something to be ashamed of. Then, remember that there is always a solution. According to Dr. Saitz, there are a number of known effective treatments, including medication and psychotherapies. “Psychotherapy is counseling that is defined and structured, and has specified elements that have been proven effective in well-designed studies. These include motivational enhancement, cognitive behavioral and twelve step facilitation therapies.” He does note, though, that there are additional key issues in treating college students: their environment and the simple truth that most college students with alcohol disorders do not seek treatment. Because of this, it is important that college students try other approaches. “These approaches include in person, mail, or web-based self assessments, and the feedback from these assessments that includes individualized estimates of risks and information about how many other students are really drinking at the same level. It’s often surprising to the students to find out that most others are not.”

If you’re uncomfortable seeking help alone or in person, there are a number of available group or online resources. “Alcoholics Anonymous and other self/mutual help groups are not treatments, but they can have a useful role—in part by providing an abstinent social network,” says Dr. Saitz. Alcoholics Anonymous hosts two types of meetings: open and closed. At open meetings, speakers talk about the ways that they have been helped by A.A. Members are allowed to bring relatives or friends, so if you’re feeling nervous, this is the time to convince your roommate to tag along. Closed meetings, on the other hand, are for alcoholics only and take place as group discussions that revolve around the Twelve Steps.