Though first year students come from dif ferent backgrounds, the one thing that they have in common is that they look forward to university parties. First year is filled with many opportunities to explore new places, meet new people and have lots of fun. However , more often than not, nights out are centred on alcohol which means that excessive alcohol consumption has become somewhat normalised. In fact, Addiction Resources say that about “20% of college students meet the medical criteria for having an Alcohol Use Disorder, which includes alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence.” This high statistic is not only attributed to the party culture embedded within universities, but also the transition from high school to university. This is because when students are presented with the pressures of meeting new people, adapting to a new environment and increased levels of work, alcohol presents itself as an easy stress reliever.
Alcohol Use Disorder includes a level known as alcoholism, which is total dependence on alcohol. Alcohol Use Disorder usually begins with binge drinking, a practice that many university students engage in. Binge drinking is defined by Addiction Resources as consuming four or more drinks (for women) and five or more drinks (for men) within two hours. Furthermore, Addiction Resources says that students who engage in binge drinking “on more than three occasions within a two week period are statistically 19 times more likely to develop alcoholism than non-binge drinkers.” Moreover, 12% of university students binge drink on five or more occasions per month, which increases the chance of alcoholism. This means that out of the approximate 60 000 students at the University of Pretoria, 7 200 are at a significantly higher risk of developing alcoholism than the average person.
Dr Linda Blokland from the Department of Psychology at the University of Pretoria says that there are many reasons that students binge drink. One of these reasons is naivete, especially “in first year students who have not been introduced to responsible drinking habits before leaving school and sometimes home,” says Dr Blokland. She further notes that other reasons for binge drinking include peer pressure from a friendship group, “experimenting with perceived ‘adult’ behaviour”, attempts to manage stress and “family factors, and learned behaviours from home, which in some cases may be carried into campus life”.
Even if binge drinking does not lead to alcoholism, it can still affect university students negatively in a number of ways. The National Institution on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) say that 25% of university students have reported that their academics have suffered due to binge drinking. This includes failing a test, falling behind in class, skipping lect ures and not completing an assignment due to a hangover , or because of plans to drink. However, the NIAAA say that when one engages in binge drinking, it poses even more serious risks such as “car crashes, drunk-driving arrests, sexual assaults, a nd injuries”. In the long-term, binge drinking can damage the live r and other organs.
Binge drinking can also have an impact on one’ s emotions. Dr Blokland says that binge drinking may “impact on close personal relationships” since “emotional intimacy is difficult to cultivate and maintain with someone who drinks heavily”. This is because drinkers often become more loyal to “drinking buddies than [their] relationship partner”. Furthermore, a drinker’s behaviour can be perceived as “self-centred by those who want to be close to them,” says Dr Blokland.
There are many ways to tell if you or a loved one has developed Alcohol Use Disorder or alcoholism. According to Addiction Resources, some tell-tale signs of alcohol abuse include being unable to control the amount of drinks you have, compromising finances, academics or work for the sake of alcohol, and a shift in sleep patterns. Signs of alcoholism, which, is more than mere alcohol abuse, include: an increased alcohol tolerance, increased amount of time spent drinking, more severe and frequent hangovers, a withdrawal from family and friends, complete neglect of responsibilities, changes in mood such as feeling depressed or irritable, unsuccessful attempts to cut-back or quit drinking, and having troubles maintaining meaningful relationships.
If you wish to avoid binge drinking, one of the most effective ways is to keep track of how many drinks you have had in order to ensure you do not exceed 4 or 5 drinks every two hours. According to the NIAAA, one drink is equivalent to about 350ml of beer with a 5% alcohol content, 150ml of wine with a 12% alcohol content or 44ml (one shot) of distilled spirits with a 40% alcohol content. Other ways you can avoid over-consuming is by skipping the drinking games, but if this is not for you, then try alternating alcoholic beverages with non-alcoholic beverages.
Dr Blokland says that if you wish to ‘cut-back’ or quit drinking altogether then it is “important to avoid the drinking buddies. Cultivate non-drinking friends.” Dr Blokland also suggests that one should find “alternative activities to keep oneself occupied and stimulated” and “analyse what the triggers are that prompt drinking and avoid these.” If this doe s not help, Dr Blokland says that it “may be necessary to seek counselling or help to stay committed to a decision to stop drinking alcohol.”
Image: Sally Hartzenberg