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How to Tell If You or a Friend Could Have an Alcohol Problem

Whether you consume alcohol or not, you can’t deny it: drinking is a major part of the college experience. In fact, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 60 percent of college students drank alcohol in the last month, and two out of three of them admitted to binge drinking during this same timeframe.

So, where exactly should you draw the line between drinking for fun and drinking that could very well become a problem down the road? We got to the bottom of determining whether or not you (or a friend) could have an alcohol problem––and how to recover. Read on to find out what we learned.

1. Identify if you fall into a higher-risk group

If you’re a first-year student, a member of Greek life or a student athlete, you could have a higher risk of developing an alcohol problem, according to the NIAAA. This doesn’t mean that if you fall into one of these groups, you are bound to develop an alcohol problem—it just indicates that you may be more susceptible to the pressures of drinking.

No matter who you are, the amount of experience you have had with alcohol previously (or how well you “think” you can manage your drinking habits) doesn’t matter. The fact of the matter is the college environment is unlike anything else, and when social pressures and peer expectations make you particularly vulnerable, the consequences of drinking heavily for an extended period of time might not seem like a big deal—but they can be.

2. Know the signs of alcohol poisoning

This is so important. While we’ve all fallen victim to one-too-many drinks on occasion, blacking out on multiple occasions could very well be a sign of an alcohol problem.

According to the NIAAA, signs of alcohol poisoning include: mental confusion, stupor, coma, vomiting, irregular breathing, hypothermia, low body temperature or bluish or pale skin. If a friend is showing any of these symptoms, don’t hesitate. Get medical help immediately, because alcohol poisoning that goes untreated can lead to brain damage or even death.

Know if your state has adopted the Medical Amnesty law, which will always provide intoxicated minors who seek help for themselves or a friend with some legal immunity. When it comes to the overconsumption of alcohol, don’t ever worry about getting in trouble more than you worry about your (or someone else’s) well being. It’s not worth it.

3. Understand what exactly “binge drinking” is

Every now and then, you might have a hard day on campus and proclaim that you’re going to binge drink that night. We get it—at times, it can be a playful joke with your friends. But, do you know what binge drinking actually means?

These days, rather than drinking to be social, many college students drink to get drunk. What’s more, according to Alcohol Rehab Guide (ARG), students are consuming more hard liquor than beer. ARG refers to binge drinking for women as consuming four or more drinks within a two-hour time period. While drinking to blackout all the time may seem normal in college, it really isn’t. If anyone is trying to convince you that it is, you may want to reevaluate your relationship with this person.

Related: How College Drinking Culture is Hurting You

4. Monitor your academic performance

ARG reports that one in four college students admit to having poor grades or other academic problems because of their drinking behavior. When drinking takes priority over going to class, doing your homework, or studying, it’s time to take a look in the mirror.

Especially early on, it can be easy to push off the reality of what failing a course can do to your college career. Not only will it cost you thousands of dollars to retake the course, but it can also delay your graduation date (and trust us, by the time you’re supposed to be a senior, you’ll be ready to graduate).

We’ve all skipped a class from time to time to go to a daylong or because of a killer hangover. But, when your party schedule is constantly conflicting with your academic schedule, something’s up. Never forget that you’re in college to get an education—this should always be most important.

Drinking in college is normal and fun, but it’s important to know where to draw the line. On campus, the pressures to go out and get wasted can make you feel particularly vulnerable, especially at a young age or if you’re a member of a major group on campus. Remember that the choice is always yours. If you suspect that you or a friend might have an alcohol problem, don’t worry. There are plenty of resources available for you to get help.  

Taylor is a senior at Temple University in Philadelphia. She is pursuing a major in journalism with a minor in English. Taylor is a member of Delta Zeta and she hopes to work for a magazine after college. Some of Taylor's favorite things include fashion, fitness, Harry Potter, Chipotle and Instagram. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @Tay_Carson!