Today’s Social Drinking, Tomorrow’s Addiction

It’s no secret that college-aged adults enjoy drinking on campus. After all, four out of five college students drink, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH) — and half of them carry the good times too far by binge drinking.

Today's Social Drinking, Tomorrow's Addiction

What Is Binge Drinking?

To understand binge drinking, we first have to define “drinking in moderation.” Drinking in moderation equates to two drinks per day (or less) for men and no more than one drink per day for women.

One drink can equate to one of the following:

  • 5 ounces of liquor
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 12 ounces of beer

Binge drinking, on the other hand, increases a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) to 0.08 g/dl. It typically takes about four drinks for a woman or five drinks for a man in about two hours to get to this level of intoxication. And many college students experience this level of intoxication on a regular basis.

College Students and Drinking

Most young men and women entering college today have already experimented with alcohol, at least to a limited extent. The combination of being away from home, having blocks of unsupervised time, and the easy availability of alcohol create conditions that are ideal for students to drink in large quantities.

Once a person discovers that a few drinks can help them feel more relaxed in social situations, they are more likely to use this strategy at other times when they feel uptight. Turning to alcohol can become a way of dealing with stress from looming academic deadlines, or other pressures to do well in school.

When you add in the struggle to “find oneself” at college, many young people can’t stop themselves from taking some of the edge off by drinking.

U.S. Adults and Binge Drinking by the Numbers

What happens to these young adults when they graduate from college? Do they all turn into moderate drinkers as soon as they complete their degree programs? No. It’s also a mistake to assume that all binge drinkers are college students. Based on the following statistics from the CDC, binge drinking affects people from all walks of life:

  • College students have a well-deserved reputation for binge drinking, but the majority (70%) of episodes involve adults who are 26 and older.
  • One in six adults in the U.S. reports that they binge drink about four times per month. The average amount of alcohol consumed per “binge”? Eight drinks.
  • More than half of all alcohol consumed by adults in the U.S. is during a binge session.
  • More men than women are likely to binge drink — the ratio is 2:1.
  • Binge drinking is more common among higher earning households than lower-income ones. Households with an income of 75K or higher are particularly vulnerable.

From Binge Drinking to Addiction

When many people think of an alcoholic, their mind immediately goes to a person who is unable to hold down a job and who may have lost many of their relationships with family and friends due to drinking. While people in this category do exist, many alcoholics appear to function “normally” and keep their addiction a secret.

This is because, over time, a heavy drinker can turn into a high functioning alcoholic (HFA). Someone in this category can still manage to work, look after family responsibilities and keep up relationships with friends while continuing to drink. With their exceptional work ethic and extreme likability, it would be difficult for anyone who knows them to imagine that they have a problem with alcohol. If someone is an alcoholic, the true test is whether they can quit drinking on their own.

Finding Help for Alcoholism

One of the biggest barriers to finding help for alcoholism is often denial — only about one-quarter of all alcoholics ever get help. Remember that a person who has been binge drinking or drinking for several years should not try to stop drinking “cold turkey.” Instead, they should seek a medically supervised detox program to guide them through the side effects from withdrawal.

Binge drinking may start with young, college-aged people but this seemingly fun activity can lead to alcoholism if it continues over the long term. By educating the young people in your life and drinking in moderation, you may be able to stop binge drinking habits early on.

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