College drinking has almost become a rite of passage on many campuses across America. The youth in their late teens and early adulthood indulge in uninhibited drinking without realizing the risks involved. They feel it’s an integral part of their education experience. However, reckless drinking behavior is a serious health problem affecting the freshmen’s psychological and physiological health.
Psychologist James Murphy from the University of Memphis is of the opinion that “college drinking is sometimes still viewed as a harmless rite of passage, when in fact college students are drinking more than any other age or demographic group.” Considering that this demography is likely to engage in impulsive behavior, exacerbated by the heady impact of alcohol in one’s system, the risks of underage alcohol consumption are more than adult drinking.
Some of the risks, as highlighted by government bodies, are as below:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly 4,300 underage youths die every year out of the consequences of excessive drinking such as accidents, alcohol poisoning, suicides and homicides.
- According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), by the time teens turn 15, about 33 percent of them are exposed to at least one drink. By 18, 60 percent teens have had one drink at least.
- Children aged between 12-20 years, mostly boys, are more likely to binge drink gulping 11 percent of total national alcohol consumption.
- Nearly 696,000 students aged between 18 and 24 have reported to assaults by a peer under the influence of alcohol.
Stemming the tide of alcohol abuse by college students
Apart from counselling and intervention, identification of high-risk categories and proper diagnosis along with safety checks could lessen the chances of alcohol abuse by college students. Let’s look at each of these in detail:
- Understanding risk of alcohol abuse in sororities and fraternities: A sorority is like a sisterhood and once a fresher joins it, it becomes all the more important for her to stick to its rules. The same applies to the frat boys. Moreover, the prom parties and the get-togethers are all occasions to enjoy free-flowing drinks and get high on life.
- Identifying students with concurrent mental health conditions: According to Clayton Neighbors from the University of Houston’s Social Influences and Health Behaviors Lab, knowing why a student drinks could shed light on who is likely to engage in problem drinking in future. While it is commonplace for students to buckle under pressure and take an occasional drink in social situations, or to get over a breakup or bad grades, some try alcohol to deal with their mental health problems like depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Providing BASICS intervention: Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students (BASICS), started by late psychologist Alan Marlatt, provides personalized feedback to students who drink more than average along with individualized strategies to avoid risky behaviors. However, while BASICS intervention is effective for social drinkers, students who drink to quell their anxiety or depression are reportedly not affected by such “norms correction” practices. Therefore, it is imperative to have in place other rewards of staying sober that will improve grades and provide them with employment of choice in future.
- Providing safety check on 21st birthdays: Researchers suggest that 21st birthdays are notorious for leading to drug and alcohol-fueled parties. Therefore, it is important for campus counsellors to engage with those who are on the threshold of 21st birthday and warn them about the dangers of binge drinking.
- Establishing familiar support system: Having someone with established credentials, who is also a part of the student community, makes it easier for students to talk freely. They find it easier to share their problems with peer educators than trained counselors and therapists.
How to check alcohol abuse
Apart from increasing the risks of addiction, alcohol impairs cognitive development during growing years. So, alcohol abuse must be checked before it turns into a serious problem.