When Social Drinking Becomes Something More: Alcoholism in College


In addition to A.A., Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is an online resource provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Using SAMHSA’s website, addicts can utilize a Treatment Facility Locator that includes more than 11,000 addiction treatment programs in a variety of styles and locations. Smart Recovery is an alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous, billing themselves as the “leading self-empowering addiction recovery support group.” Their focus is on self-management, and they use a 4-Point program to help addicts recover from any type of addiction.

Finally, one of the most accessible resources to all college students is on-campus alcohol counseling facilities. While programs vary from school to school, help is only a phone call or visit to your campus Health Center away. One well-known program available on campuses across the country is the Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students (BASICS) program, available at schools including Penn State University, Ithaca College, University of Michigan, and Boston University. Even if BASICS is not at your school, your campus will likely have some sort of similar program that provides counseling and guidance for alcohol-related issues.

The premise of BASICS is simple: students answer purposeful, pointed questions about their alcohol consumption. The responses given are then analyzed by a clinician, who determines whether or not the individual has developed dependence. According to the University of Michigan BASICS website, the program “is designed to assist students in examining their own drinking behavior in a judgment-free environment.” Maggie*, a student at the University of Michigan who took advantage of her campus’s BASICS program after one too many negative brushes with alcohol during her senior year of high school and freshman year of college, believes that the BASICS program offers valuable insight and numerous benefits. “A friend told me about BASICS after I mentioned I found myself frequently blacking out on the weekends. I was hesitant to go, because I felt like it would mean I had a serious problem or was an alcoholic, but I’m so glad I went,” she says. “ I talked to someone there twice, and it was a much more relaxing, comfortable environment than I expected. The woman I spoke to helped me establish safe ways to drink—what is a safe limit, how to measure it, and things to tell myself before going out. It really helped me put my drinking in perspective.” She goes on to mention one of the key aspects of the BASICS program: “Going to something like that doesn’t necessarily mean you have a problem or are an alcoholic. We could all benefit from tips about healthy drinking habits, even if we think we’ve all heard it before.”

Dr. Saitz, whose primary area of expertise includes the BASICS program, says that the program has proved to be effective in dozens of clinical trials. “The key,” he says, “is to do it properly, which means with respect and nonjudgmentally. Ask permission to talk about it and give advice, be genuinely interested in the person’s well-being, and listen to the student to find solutions that will work for them.”

For those collegiettes whose campus lacks a BASICS program, a call to the student health services center will point concerned students in the direction of comparable on-campus programs that will provide the same assistance.

While seeking treatment from alcoholism may feel like a huge undertaking, recovery is possible. After taking a brief hiatus from alcohol in order to refocus her life, Ryann has taken control of her alcohol abuse and gone back to enjoying only a drink or two occasionally. “I have a much better grasp on myself as a person and I’m not as dependent on alcohol to make me feel freer or more accepted in a group. I learned that drinking while stressed is never a good thing.”

Have you or your friends had experience with alcohol abuse in college? Share with a comment below.

*Names have been changed