Recovery Corner with Jamie Smolen, MD
Binge drinking among college students
Binge drinking among college students – what we should know
As we embark on the 2017-2018 school year, most students, particularly freshmen, have left the safety of home and are proudly stepping onto campuses feeling more independent than they have ever felt before. For them, everything is exciting and new. And it should be. They have recently registered for classes. They are making new friends. They are adjusting to life on their own in dorms or apartment communities. These students are confident, smart and already on their way to being well-educated. However, they may lack the life experience necessary to prepare them for the temptation of college partying. Many students, enjoying freedom from home for the first time, are experimenting with substances and behaviors that may be uncharacteristic for them. Unfortunately, many college students don’t realize that excessive drinking, also called binge drinking, can result in sexual aggression, poor academic performance, overdose and even death. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, or NIAAA, students who binge drink are also more at risk for depression, suicide attempts, health problems, unsafe sex, participating in or being victims of vandalism, property damage, driving under the influence and criminal involvement.
The dangers of drinking at a young age
For too many students, drinking at college is an essential part of the overall experience, according to the NIAAA. Some have even started drinking and forming their habits during their teenage years. People who begin drinking at a young age are particularly vulnerable to binge drinking in college and may already have an alcohol disorder, which can lead to long term problems throughout their adult lives.
The following annual statistics have been reported by NIAAA:
- About 1,825 college students between the ages of 18-24 die from alcohol-related, unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes.
- Nearly 696,000 students are assaulted by other students who have been drinking.
- Approximately 97,000 students report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
Binge drinking defined
Binge drinking is defined as the consumption of an excessive amount of alcohol in a short amount of time. For women, that means four or more drinks within a two-hour period. For men, five or more drinks in a two-hour period.
After engaging in binge drinking, one in four college students report academic consequences, including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers and receiving lower grades. The student who binge drinks is predicted to perform poorly on a test 40 percent of the time.
Factors that affect student drinking
Parents and college students, particularly new college students, should be aware of the risks that come with alcohol consumption. Students might be more likely drink too much if they put themselves in compromising situations. For example, in a new environment with limited supervision, opportunities for adventure and fun are all around. Peer pressure and social expectations can lead to behavior that is not necessarily intentional for younger, more naïve young adults. Oftentimes, college students are trying things for the first time, interacting with new groups of people and doing things they have never done before. They might lack the knowledge to know when they should stop drinking, slow down or abstain altogether.
Step up and speak up
The NIAAA has come up with several recommendations and tips for parents who have young adults attending college. First, as parents, we should simply be aware of college drinking taking place on and around our campuses. In a recent New York Times article, one author noted that despite decades of research, hundreds of campus task forces and millions of dollars invested in experiments, college drinking remains as much of a problem as ever. The binge-drinking rate is more than 40 percent among college students in America. So parents should remain aware and reinforce responsible behavior in their college-aged kids.
Know what to do, and keep doing it
Young college students may not be aware of the dangers of drinking. Let’s educate them. Let’s remind them and encourage them to be smart and safe. And, let’s keep it up. We can be direct and honest when talking to our kids. And students should feel empowered to be direct and honest with their friends as well. Here are some tips to keep the lines of communication open:
- Speak up emphatically about date rape, violence and academic failure.
- Keep reaching out, at least weekly, to your kids who are away at school.
- Be alert for alcohol-related problems.
- Remind young adults in your life to share with you about their daily activities and show interest in what they are doing and with whom.
- Learn about the college’s alcohol prevention and emergency intervention efforts.
- Make sure your college student knows the signs of alcohol overdose or alcohol-related problems and how to help someone who is in need.
- Encourage your kids to speak up if they see something inappropriate or dangerous, and make sure they know the proper channels for reporting crimes or emergencies.
- Invite your college-aged kids to watch out for their friends, to lead by example and to be kind and helpful to people around them who may be in dangerous situations.
Ultimately, students, parents, friends and relatives should stay vigilant and watch for risky behaviors. Any bright young adult afforded the opportunity to go away to college is probably looking forward to an amazing learning experience and an incredible life ahead. Knowledge and awareness is key in staying safe and making the most out of this exciting time.
Jamie Smolen, MD, is an associate professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Florida College of Medicine. He practices psychiatry and addiction medicine at the UF Health Florida Recovery Center. Dr. Smolen is an evaluator for the Florida Professionals Resource Network, Intervention Project for Nurses and the Florida Department of Health. Dr. Smolen’s consulting expertise has also been sought by several Major League Baseball teams and the National Football League. He has fulfilled an important role in the successful treatment of many impaired health care providers and professional athletes.