Students walk a blurry line between alcoholism and a normal college experience

Everyone knows the stereotype: the young university student who attends class during the week and blacks out on the weekends — “weekend” being a fluid term due to the fact that for some people, the weekend could begin on Thursday, or, for the most tenacious, may never end. While it may seem like good fun, it is also characteristic of destructive or alcoholic behavior. According to leading professionals, binge drinking (which classifies all drinking where men consume more than five drinks, and women more than four drinks, on any single occasion), blacking out, having a high tolerance and even enjoying or looking forward to drinking shenanigans, increase one’s tendency toward alcoholism.

At this point, many of you are probably asking yourselves, “Am I an alcoholic or just a college student?”

Unfortunately, the answer is not universal, but if you possess any of the previously mentioned traits or behaviors, you may want to evaluate your drinking habits. Most experts agree there are four basic stages of substance use, culminating in stage four: full blown alcoholism. Stage one is classified as alcohol use and experimentation. This includes casual or occasional social drinking, never resulting in any undesirable legal, social or physiological consequences. Stage two is classified as “misuse.” By this stage, alcohol use has increased measurably, social relationships may suffer, and other consequences may begin to occur, such as receiving a DUI or a drinking ticket.

Stage three, substance “abuse,” is characterized by tenacious drinking habits, not swayed by persistent or multiple negatively consequential experiences. Tolerance and use frequency has further increased. We have arrived at stage four: full blown alcoholism or “alcohol addiction and dependency.” If you are an alcoholic, you have a compulsive desire to use and abuse alcohol; frequent blackouts and loss of self-control inevitably occur. You have developed not only a psychological dependence on alcohol, but also a physical dependence, which means you are causing damage to both your physical and mental health.

The series of classifications is ominous considering the fact that, in Utah, binge drinking becomes common by the 10th grade. By college, most “fun-loving” people (especially underagers) tend to find themselves in stage three, or potentially stage four. Does this mean predominant social structures are causing us all to become alcoholics? Are we all doomed to develop beer bellies and lose everything important in our lives not named whiskey? Maybe. Once a physical dependency on any substance is formed, it’s difficult and often painful to stop putting the substance in your body. It’s not hard to imagine how your life could slowly (or quickly) go downhill due to a physical dependency on alcohol.

This does not necessarily mean we ought to immediately stop drinking forever. But it is important to be aware of risky propensities involving alcohol consumption. Furthermore, we all possess the power of free will and can decide how severely alcohol influences our decisions. As autonomous adults, we have the ability to make our own decisions and the responsibility to be accountable for those decisions. It can’t be too hard to make a conscious effort to keep ourselves out of the dangerous categories of alcohol consumption.

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