Alcohol has long been a fixture on college campuses. For many people, having a social life in college means drinking. Studies have found that young adults do, in fact, binge drink more if they’re enrolled in college than if they don’t and that increase is mostly due to the pro-drinking social environment. Unfortunately, just because drinking is part of the college experience doesn’t mean it can’t lead to dependence, addiction, and other negative consequences. As much as 20 percent of college students meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder, which is more than three times the rate in the general public. If you have a child in college or if you are a college student yourself, here are some of the warning signs that social drinking has become a problem.

Bad grades

Unfortunately, you can be stone sober and still get bad grades but if you suddenly find your grades falling, alcohol may be to blame. About 25 percent of college students report academic consequences from drinking, including missing class, falling behind in class, doing badly on tests or papers, and getting lower grades overall. Drinking can even impair your ability to learn, perhaps most significantly by impairing your sleep. REM sleep is when new skills and knowledge are transferred into long-term memory. So even if two students spend the same amount of time studying, the one who has a few drinks in the evening probably won’t remember as much.

Researchers at Penn State sought to quantify how much binge drinking affects students’ grades. They examined data from more than 15,000 students who sought counseling at colleges and universities across the country and found an inverse relationship between GPA and binge drinking. Students who reported no binge drinking at all within the past two weeks had an average GPA of 3.19. Students who reported one episode of binge drinking did a little worse at 3.11. Students who reported three to five incidents of binge drinking had an average GPA of 3.04 and students who reported more than 10 incidents fell below a B with an average GPA of 2.95.

Missing lectures and other commitments

As noted above, many students report missing class because of drinking. There are several reasons this should be cause for concern. One is that actually attending class is probably the least demanding part of college. You don’t have that many classes per week and you can often choose your own schedule. Many students don’t have class at all on Fridays. If drinking still impairs your ability to get to class, you are likely drinking far too much. The other big reason to be concerned about missing class because of drinking is that it’s a classic warning sign of addiction. College is expensive and a lot depends on doing well while you’re there. If you’re neglecting classes and other responsibilities so you can drink, it suggests drinking has become far too important.

Getting in trouble

In some ways, poor academic performance is the least bad consequence of excessive drinking in college. Each year, an estimated 1,800 college students die from alcohol-related injuries, including those that result from drunk driving. In addition to that, 696,000 students are physically assaulted by another student who has been drinking and 97,000 students are sexually assaulted. Being involved in a fight, a rape, or a drunk driving incident is bad in itself but it can also lead to legal trouble or disciplinary action by the college or university. If you do find yourself in trouble for alcohol-related behavior, it’s probably a sign that drinking has become a problem. People who get arrested for DUI, for example, typically don’t get caught their first time out, but rather because of a pattern of behavior. The same is true for other alcohol-related disciplinary actions.

Needing alcohol to relax

Many college students have a work-hard-play-hard attitude toward their studies. They study hard during the week, perhaps staying up late and avoiding the party scene but when the weekend comes–often starting on Thursday evening–they unwind with heavy drinking. It’s perhaps understandable, given the high stress of doing well in college, that they would want to relax on the weekends but needing alcohol to relax should be a huge warning sign. You don’t necessarily have to drink every day for alcohol use to be a problem. Binge drinking to relax may be a sign that you are not managing stress well and instead, depending on a foreign substance to unwind. You may even have the beginning of physical dependence. Being slightly on edge when not drinking is typically a sign that your brain has adjusted to the presence of alcohol.

Showing other signs of addiction

The signs above are red flags more specific to college students but more general warning signs of addiction apply too. We’ve already covered prioritizing alcohol over more important responsibilities like class, getting into accidents or legal trouble, and developing physical dependence. Other signs include not being able to stop drinking once you start, lying or being deceptive about how much you drink, borrowing or stealing money for alcohol, or trying to quit drinking but being unable to.

At Fort Behavioral Health, we offer a safe, nurturing, and healing space for men and women to find recovery from the multifaceted disease of addiction. Our team believes in inspiring each client to face their challenges, discover the root of their problems, and reclaim their lives. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, call us today at 844.332.1807 or contact us through our admissions page.


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