I have an issue that I’m not sure yet is a problem, but that I’ve been thinking about a lot. When I first got to college, I started drinking more. I still get to class and I get good grades, but, as time has gone by, I’ve started to drink more and more. My tolerance is probably higher now, though part of it may just be that I’ve started to like drinking a little bit too much.
So, lately, I’ve been worried that I have a drinking problem. It’s hard for me to imagine that my drinking qualifies me as an “alcoholic,” because it’s not like I’m drinking way, way more than anyone else around me. But I still worry, and I want to make sure that I’m being safe. Experts, how do I know if my drinking is over the line?
Alcohol is common in our culture, but that doesn’t mean that drinking can’t be a huge problem. In fact, as you’re no doubt aware, drinking can be extremely dangerous. Binge drinking can lead to injury, illness, risky behavior, and even death. And chronic drinking can lead to a host of health problems later in life, from liver disease to mental health problems. Also, young drinkers may be breaking the law — depending on what age you were when you started college and whether you’re in the United States, Canada, or elsewhere, your drinking habits could have brought legal consequences.
Of course, some folks are able to drink in moderation and do not suffer the most serious health consequences of drinking (though it remains true that drinking is never exactly “good for you” — most experts agree that booze represents empty calories at best). So what separates habits like these from “drinking problems” and alcoholism?
One thing that’s certainly not a good indicator of your drinking habits is the behaviors of your peers. First of all, as a college student, you’re likely to be surrounded by some pretty reckless drinkers. Unfortunately, the reality is that college campuses are hotbeds for risky drinking behaviors. Most college students report having a drink within the past month, and nearly 4 in 10 say that they’ve engaged in binge drinking. Those are troubling statistics.
College students as a group don’t have the best habits, but the rest of the population isn’t doing extraordinarily better. One recent study found that a third of all drinkers showed signs of addiction; other studies have suggested even higher figures for various benchmarks of health consequences and alcoholism.
In short, the behavior of others around you is a terrible standard by which to determine whether you are an addict.
So what’s the standard? Well, you can look at a few key things.
First, you need to answer this question: Does alcohol interfere with your life? This is a broad question, so consider all aspects. Have you missed class because you were hungover? Do you have trouble budgeting for all the booze you buy? Have your friendships or relationships suffered because of your drinking? Any one of these things is a huge red flag that should have you rethinking your relationship with booze.
You can also look at how you think about alcohol. Do you crave it? Can you not wait until classes are over so that you can start drinking? Or do you drink before class? Thoughts and behaviors that suggest an obsession with or dependence on alcohol are, obviously, bad signs.
Finally, you can look at the raw numbers. Experts suggest that women have no more than one and men no more than two drinks a day. College or no college, you shouldn’t be exceeding this standard all that often. Some experts peg “risky” drinking at more than four drinks a day or more than 14 per week (men) or more than three drinks per day or seven per week (women). If you’re exceeding those standards, you should be on high alert.
If you feel that your drinking has become a problem, you should take action. Seek help from a counselor or therapist who specializes in alcohol addiction, and consider options like rehab or a 12-step program, suggest the experts at the Canadian Centre for Addictions. There may be other resources for you on campus. Choose to recognize and resolve your issue, and you’ll have a bright future.