By Molly Igoe
If you’re in college, you’ve probably heard terms like “plastered, wasted, smashed, or toasted” to describe someone who has had too much to drink. These phrases sound light-heart- ed, even funny. Rarely will a college student hear the word alcoholic, and if they do, it’s almost always in a flippant or off-handed comment not meant to be taken seriously.
Going into my senior year of college, I am convinced that college students across the country are in denial about their drinking habits, and what should and shouldn’t be considered alcoholism or alcohol abuse. I’m not writing this to make you stop drinking, or to pass judgement on your drinking habits. I’m not. I do, however, want to open up a dialogue about binge drinking and alcohol dependence in college.
To start, alcoholism is defined by WebMd as, “being physically and mentally addicted to alcohol.” They list some common problems associated with alcohol dependency, including: “you cannot quit drinking or control how much you drink, you need to drink to get the same effect, you spend a lot of time drinking and recovering from drinking, and you have tried to cut back the amount you drink but haven’t been able to.”
Alcohol abuse, which precedes alcohol dependence/alcoholism, is defined as, “having unhealthy or dangerous drink- ing habits, such as drinking every day or drinking too much at a time.” To clarify, alcoholism is a chronic disease, not just a bad habit that one can out grow or shake off. Binge drinking, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Al- coholism, “is a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration levels to 0.08 g/dL, usually after four drinks for women and five drinks for men in about two hours.”
There is an unsettling double standard in the U.S. when it comes to drinking in college and drinking as an adult: binge drinking is encouraged and celebrated in college, and this at- titude usually applies to most 20-somethings. Once they have reached 30, however, binge drinking is suddenly perceived as unhealthy, an addiction. We need to shift this view, and start recognizing and calling out unhealthy drinking behaviors among students while they are in college, before they get to adulthood and have to deal with these consequences.
According to the NIAAA, each year about 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including car crashes. A national survey found that almost 60 percent of college students ages 18 to 22 drank alcohol in the past month, and almost two out of three engaged in binge drinking during that time.
I have always been well aware of the realities of alcohol dependence and alcoholism; my mom is an addictions counselor, and many members of my family have struggled with alcoholism and alcohol dependence. The drinking culture in college has always felt a bit surreal to me; it’s the only place where drinking at 9 a.m. is acceptable, or where drinking 15 beers, or shots, or whatever a day all weekend is cool and normal.
Like I said, I’m not here to call you an alcoholic, or con- vince you that you have a drinking problem. I’m simply saying that we, as students, need to get out of this college drinking bubble that we’re in, and stop thinking that we’re invincible and that we can drink all day, every day, and not worry about what happens after. Drinking in moderation in college is fun, and is a way that we bond with friends and others. It’s important, though, that we don’t normalize dangerous behaviors, and that we don’t shy away from the realities of binge drinking and alcohol dependence.