Alcohol culture in universities is a nearly ubiquitous media depiction. Most people can conjure up John Belushi in a toga chanting or college freshmen getting initiated into campus life with rousing cheers of "Shots! Shots! Shots!" in any number of coming-of-age comedies. While scenes like this in movie and TV can always make us laugh, they have also played a significant role in normalizing college drinking. Drinking in college can be an enjoyable experience, but it is easy to lose control. When binge drinking and alcohol abuse become the center of socializing, many young adults on college campuses find they need help. Approximately 20 percent of college students have an alcohol use disorder.
What makes college drinking so common? Why does this culture result in so many young adults who struggle with alcohol abuse? Understanding the foundation of college drinking culture and the warning signs for alcohol abuse can help students and the people who care about them get help.
Learn About Outpatient Treatment
Frequent binge drinking characterizes alcohol culture, but what is the difference between having a few drinks and binging? The definition of binge drinking for women is having four or more drinks in a single period, and having five or more drinks in a single period for men. Recent data shows millions of men and women report going on a drinking binge within the last month. Binge drinking is not limited to college students, but it is a frequent part of university culture. Why is alcohol abuse on college campuses so common?
For many young adults, attending college is the first time in their lives without regular adult supervision. It is especially the case for students who move into college dorms or off-campus apartments, as opposed to students who commute to classes from home. This foray into adulthood can be intimidating. College students may not feel ready for adulthood, or find the sense of freedom a breath of fresh air. Either way, there is no one there telling them what to to do and what not to do. Drinking is an adult activity, and college is an entrance into adulthood. The two seem like a natural fit.
Along with that newfound freedom comes a desire to fit in and make friends. When everyone else is drinking, the level of peer pressure to join in is powerful. Many social activities in college revolve around drinking, so turning down a drink at a party can seem like a risky move. Will you be the odd one out? Will your peers stop inviting you to parties? That level of peer pressure can be particularly intense when college students are members of a fraternity or sorority. Greek culture has long had a reputation for excessive drinking. One study found a link between pressure to display hyper-masculinity in fraternity chapters and excessive drinking.
Whether they participate in Greek culture or not, college students can be under an incredible amount of stress. The uncertainty that comes with being away from home for the first time and the pressure to perform well academically is undeniably stressful. Binge drinking is a common way to "blow off steam" and cope with that stress. After studying for tests all week, a weekend of binge drinking seems like the ideal way to forget about school for a while.
Plus, a lot of college students are on strict budgets. If alcohol is available, why not drink as much as possible? After all, who knows when the next drink will be available?
Colleges and universities have rules to curb excessive alcohol consumption. The law prohibits underage drinking across the board, since the legal age to buy and consume alcohol is 21. Some colleges take it a step further and ban alcohol on campus entirely. While these rules are well-meaning, they do not necessarily solve the issue of alcohol abuse in college. Additionally, colleges do not always have ways to strictly enforce drinking rules. In the case of dry campuses, students will often find places to drink away from school premises. Despite prohibition and other school policies, many college students still face the consequences of alcohol abuse.
Heavy drinking comes with consequences. College students know this, but often think they will remain in control and avoid disrupting their lives. While this may be true for some people, it is vital to understand what is at stake.
When so many people are drinking in college, it can be difficult to determine when social drinking has crossed the line into alcohol abuse. College students may rationalize their behavior because they only have their peers, who also binge drink, for comparison. Often, parents whose children live on campus have no idea what their college student's social life is like and how much alcohol they are consuming. Here are some red flags college students and those who care about them should know.
Alcohol abuse can be an insidious problem, hard to recognize in yourself and the people you care about. Changing the culture of drinking on college campuses could go a long way to reducing the number of people who abuse alcohol, but changing such an ingrained culture takes time. This change will need to take place on an individual and institutional level. College students will need to actively embrace a new mindset that recognizes the risks of alcohol abuse, and universities will need to have policies in place to support it. What can we do to facilitate this change and help prevent alcohol abuse in college?
Alcohol abuse is not uncommon. You are not alone. College is a challenging time, and we have all had to ask for help at some point. If you are struggling with this issue in college, support is available. Safely detoxing is the first step to becoming sober and reclaiming control of your life. Contact us at Diamond House Detox to learn how we can help. We personalize our approach to make sure we treat your needs. Call today for same day admittance at (800) 205-6107.
Content medically reviewed by Vicky Magobet, PMHNP-BC, on April 4th, 2019.