Parties, alcohol, and freedom have long gone hand in hand with college – for as long as teenagers have been leaving mom and dad to begin their educations. It isn’t any wonder that college students make up one of the highest ranking demographic groups for alcohol abuse. Estimates reflect that just over 60 percent of college students have used alcohol in the last 30 days, and that as many as two-thirds of those students have taken part in binge drinking in the same period. That is a change from college students’ drinking habits from the past. While the use of alcohol has remained constant for the last few decades, instances of binge drinking have increased dramatically over that time frame, and that can carry some serious risks, reports NJ alcohol rehab center Summit Behavioral Health.
What is Binge Drinking?
Binge drinking is defined as imbibing 5 or more consecutive drinks for men, and 4 or more consecutive drinks for women. It’s an excessive amount of alcohol consumed in a short period of time. In other words, it’s when someone is drinking with the intention of getting drunk. Binge drinking typically causes blood alcohol levels that significantly exceed the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.08%.
College students often believe that they are just trying to have a good time with their friends, but patterns of binge drinking are subject to dangerous and sometimes devastating consequences.
What are the Risks of Binge Drinking?
The risks of binge drinking vary from the minor discomfort of a hangover to accidents and injuries to extremely serious consequences, including death. The National Institute of Health1 (NIH) reports that more than 1,800 college students die each year from alcohol-related injuries and accidents. That’s a frightening number, and it doesn’t include the instances where the consequences are not fatal.
Other significant risks include:
Drunk driving – Nearly three and a half million college age students get behind the wheel after drinking.
Risky Sexual Behavior – 13% of college students have reported that they have engaged in unprotected sex after a night of excessive drinking. That number is self-reported, so the actual number is likely much higher.
Assault – Nearly 700,000 college students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking each year.
Sexual abuse – Every year, 97,000 students suffer date rape or another form of sexual abuse that is alcohol-related.
Injuries – Almost 600,000 college students go to the emergency room with alcohol-related injuries each year.
The Risks of Alcohol-Related Hazing
Hazing and initiations have been around on college campuses for a long time. They are especially popular among the Greek communities (fraternities and sororities) and sports teams. But the nature of hazing is no longer like that of our grandfathers. It now often includes dangerous behaviors that are abusive and sometimes illegal. Alcohol is frequently involved in those behaviors. Over the last few decades the number of deaths due to hazing has continued to increase each year, and it is estimated that as many as 82% fatalities are alcohol-related.
The Risks of Alcohol and Energy Drinks
Energy drinks have gained popularity over the last five years; they can be seen in abundance on college campuses. The purpose of the drinks is to boost the drinker’s energy with caffeine, vitamins, herbal extracts, and sugar. Most people who drink energy drinks consume one to give them the energy they need to be productive throughout the day. It isn’t the same when college students are out at a party or bar drinking though. On a typical night out, those who drink energy drinks combined with alcohol commonly have at least three of the mixed drinks.
The combination of caffeine, which raises the heart rate, and alcohol, which lowers the heart rate, sends the body mixed signals that can be dangerous. The over-consumption of energy drinks with alcohol can cause heart problems, motor skill problems, confusion and dizziness, and exhaustion. Additionally, because the caffeine in energy drinks is a stimulant that can mask the effects of alcohol, people drinking the mixture are more likely to drive drunk than those who are only drinking alcohol. They are also at least three times more apt to binge drink.
Alcoholism and Other Risks
One of the biggest and most serious risks of binge drinking is alcoholism. Often times, college students believe that binge drinking isn’t that serious because they are not drinking every day. The truth is, there’s a natural progression from abstinence to alcoholism in people who have an alcohol use disorder. How long it takes a person to become alcohol dependent varies depending on several different factors, including both environmental and genetic components. In those individuals who become alcoholics, there is a line that is crossed and recreational use becomes physical or psychological dependence. Once that happens, it’s very difficult for the person to walk away from alcohol without professional help.
That’s not the only risk though. There are many other problems that arise for college students due to drinking excessively. Some of them include:
Health issues – College students are young and usually feel like they are immune to suffering medical problems, including the health risks of binge drinking. However, those who suffer from alcohol poisoning can have long-term health issues no matter what their age. The longer and more consistently a person drinks to excess increases health risks exponentially.
Legal problems – The legal drinking age is 21, which most college students have not yet reached. That means that anytime they engage in any type of drinking, they are breaking the law and run the risk of getting into trouble with law enforcement. When they choose to drink and drive, their chances of arrest increase significantly, and the punishment can be extreme depending on where they go to school.
Academic discipline – Each college has its own set of standards for student behavior, but those standards typically extend to life outside of the classroom. It is common for incidents that involve binge drinking to result in negative consequences for college students. In fact, in 2013 there were 165,000 academic disciplinary actions taken against students for alcohol-related incidents.
Getting Help for Alcohol Abuse
There is help available for college students who have a problem with alcohol. Treatment options include detox, inpatient, outpatient, 12-step programs, and alcohol and drug addiction therapy. The good news is that college students can get and stay sober before they suffer many of the negative consequences that lifetime drinkers do. The first step is to recognize the problem and call our NJ alcohol rehab center and ask for help.
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1 National Institute of Health http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/CollegeFactSheet/CollegeFactSheet.pdf