drinking in college

At the back of every parent’s mind as they send their college freshman off to school is the fear about campus binge drinking. Parents have read the many tragic stories of once-promising futures snuffed out due to alcohol poisoning. They know about hazing rituals and party games, where excessive alcohol consumption can overwhelm a young person’s ability to metabolize it. They know the dangers of freshman drinking in college.

Drinking in college is almost like a social ritual. The majority of students do partake in underage drinking games, as the availability of the substance is widely accessible. Parties at fraternity or sorority houses also perpetuate a long history of alcohol consumption among college students. These young adults may participate in a desire to fit in, to make new friends, and to let off some steam from the academic pressures.

It is a biological fact, however, that the liver can only metabolize one serving of alcohol per hour. This translates to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, 8 ounces of malt liquor, or 1.5 ounces of spirits, such as whiskey, vodka, tequila, and gin, ingested per hour. When the body reaches a saturation point due to excessive alcohol consumption over a short period of time, it becomes toxic to the system, resulting in alcohol poisoning.

What are the Dangers of Freshman Drinking in College?

Binge drinking poses a significant health risk in our country. The CDC reports that one in six adults will binge drink 4 times per month, and that the highest levels of binge drinking behavior involves individuals in the 18-34 year age bracket. The majority of those under age 21 who reported a history of alcohol consumption also admit to binge drinking behaviors.

The consequences of binge drinking negatively impact all aspects of social, physical, and mental wellbeing. Drinking reduces inhibitions, increases confidence, and suppresses the ability to think or behave rationally. There are numerous consequences related to binge drinking, including:

  • Risk of STDs or unwanted pregnancy. Loss of inhibitions due to intoxication can lead to risky sexual practices that can have lifelong negative consequences.
  • Blackouts. Binge drinking can lead to experiencing blackouts, which occurs when the individual has no memory of the period they were intoxicated, and can cause serious brain damage.
  • Embarrassment and regret. Heavy alcohol consumption results in the inability to think clearly or to exercise good judgment, which may lead to doing inappropriate acts that the individual may regret the next day. Many times the unfortunate behavior happens during a blackout period.
  • Injury or possible death. Coordination is compromised while under the influence of alcohol. According to the National Institute of Health, emergency room visits due to alcohol related injuries increased by 50% from 2006-2014, and alcohol accounted for more than 10,400 traffic-related fatalities in 2016.
  • Legal problems. Alcohol abuse can result in the student being charged with driving under the influence. A DUI is a devastating stain on the young adult’s record that results in fines that can exceed $15,000 and the loss of a driver’s license for a year. Worse yet is if the DUI involved harming or even killing another driver.
  • Flunking out of school. Academic performance can be seriously impacted if the student is involved in regular binge drinking or heavy alcohol consumption. Hangovers can lead to absences from classes, missed exams, and poor quality work.
  • Assault. Heavy alcohol consumption can lead to violent or aggressive behavior. If the person who has blacked out is female, there is increased risk of them experiencing sexual assault.

The problems related to freshman drinking in college can persist for years. The long-term health risks associated with binge drinking include:

  • Permanent brain damage
  • Liver disease
  • Legal consequences of violence or assault while under the influence
  • Heart attack or high blood pressure
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Increased risk of infertility
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome in children born to a mother who binged on alcohol
  • Ulcers
  • Increased risk of developing alcoholism in later years
  • Increased cancer risk

Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning has an adverse effect on several organs and body functions, even becoming life threatening. Because alcohol depresses the central nervous system, the individual will become uncoordinated and can easily lose their balance. The heart and respiratory rates slow and become irregular, which can potentially lead to coma or a heart attack. Other serious effects of alcohol poisoning include seizures due to a drastic drop in blood sugar, choking to death on one’s vomit, and dehydration caused by vomiting that can lead to permanent brain damage.

When a classmate begins to exhibit the following symptoms, you should immediately call for medical assistance:

  • Fades in and out of consciousness
  • Clammy, cool skin
  • Unable to stand or walk
  • Low respiratory rate, breathing is uneven 
  • Blotchy or blue tinged fingers and skin tone
  • Becomes unresponsive
  • Exhibits mental confusion or stupor
  • Seizures, convulsions, or spasms
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Vomits while passed out but doesn’t awaken

How is Alcohol Poisoning Treated?

If someone is participating in binge drinking and begins to experience the warning signs of alcohol poisoning, it is imperative that 911 is called for immediate medical assistance. The dangers associated with freshman drinking in college are quite real. Alcohol poisoning is considered a medical emergency and if ignored can result in death. The signs of alcohol poisoning include:

When someone is experiencing alcohol poisoning they must not be left alone. Many of the fatalities that have occurred due to binge drinking were due to being abandoned by friends. There is a real danger of choking on their own vomit, which can have fatal results. While awaiting the emergency responders, try to remain calm. Do not give the individual anything to drink or eat. Keep them lying on their side to avoid aspiration of vomit. Try to keep them alert by continuing to talk to them until help arrives.

The emergency responders will immediately begin life-saving interventions that will help stabilize the individual during transit to a hospital. Once admitted, the medical staff will immediately take several proactive measures. These include:

  • Intubating the patient to support breathing and reduce the danger of choking
  • Providing oxygen therapy
  • Administering IV fluids, including vitamins and glucose
  • Pump the stomach to remove any residual alcohol 
  • Constantly monitoring vital signs

Self-Medicating a Mental Health Issue

Binge drinking isn’t the only way that drinking can cause problems in college. Regular alcohol intake, not necessarily binge drinking levels, can also have serious repercussions over the long run. This is especially the case when the student is using alcohol to numb emotional problems. Rates of anxiety and depression among young adults continue to rise, which may lead to using alcohol to self-medicate.

Over time, as tolerance to the effects of the alcohol increases, the young adult may begin to consume higher and higher quantities of alcohol to chase that initial sensation they experienced when they first began to drink. The increased alcohol consumption can worsen the symptoms of depression or anxiety and potentially lead to alcohol addiction. These co-occurring disorders are called a dual diagnosis, or the presence of both an alcohol use disorder and a mental health disorder.

Treatment for an Alcohol Use Disorder

Because binge drinking is considered an alcohol use disorder, the young adult should be treated through an alcohol 30 day rehab program, either an outpatient or residential setting. In treatment the individual will learn how to change their behaviors around alcohol or any substance abuse, how to avoid a relapse, and to receive treatment for any co-occurring mental health issues. Generally, treatment for an alcohol use disorder involves the following:

  • Medical Detox.If the young adult has developed a serious alcohol problem they may need to first complete a thorough detoxification before beginning treatment. During detox and withdrawal the detox team will provide the necessary medications to mitigate many of the withdrawal symptoms, and guide the individual safely through the process. In addition, the detox professionals offer important psychological support as well as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mental confusion are common in detox and withdrawal.
  • Addiction Treatment. Addiction recovery involves making fundamental changes to the learned behaviors that have kept the young person either engaged in binge drinking behaviors or dependent on alcohol. CBT helps the individual identify dysfunctional thought patterns and self-destructive addictive behaviors. In therapy the individual learns to replace those with new positive thought patterns that will eventually lead to new healthy habits. Other interventions include group therapy, holistic therapies, acquiring stress-management skills, active planning to prevent relapse, and attending 12-step meetings or similar recovery meetings.
  • Continuing Care. An important treatment component includes the continuing care services that will support recovery after rehab is completed. By continuing on with regular outpatient counseling and support services, as well as engaging in a recovery community that provides peer support, the individual will have a supportive backstop when issues that threaten recovery arise. Selecting sober living housing instead of campus housing is another excellent continuing care option.

College aged drinking can have devastating effects on a young adult’s life, and for years to come. By addressing binge drinking or heavy drinking early on, the student can take steps to change the way they view alcohol, and to adopt a sober lifestyle

Solutions 4 Recovery Dual Diagnosis and Addiction Treatment in Orange County

Solutions 4 Recovery is a leading addiction and dual diagnosis treatment provider located in South Orange County, California. Getting help for your young adult early in life can offer them hope of enjoying a fulfilling and healthy life in recovery. Delaying treatment only allows the disease to progress to chemical dependency, increased health problems, and mounting legal, academic, work, and relationship consequences. If you have questions about alcohol use disorder in college students, please contact Solutions 4 Recovery today for guidance and effective solutions at (888) 417-1874.