The first academic semester of the year is underway, and for students this can mean a return to the party lifestyle. Weekend parties, sporting events, and hallmark days like “Thirsty Thursday” are engrained in the culture on college campuses. Whether a student is returning to college, or is a first-time freshman, entering a situation where heavy alcohol use is present is unavoidable. For some, it may be the first time they are in an environment in which heavy drinking is considered “normal.” For others, it may already be an established habit. But how do you know when drinking has gone too far? Maybe you’re wondering if you have a problem with alcohol yourself, or maybe you’re concerned about a friend. Channing Marinari, LMHC, QS, MCAP, ICADC of Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches (www.bhpalmbeach.com ) is an Internationally Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor and Certified Addiction Professional. She explains the warning signs of problem drinking, and ways that you can help someone who may be struggling below.
- Worsening Academic Performance- One of the key signs to look for when someone is drinking too much is a change in their academic performance, Channing explains. A person who is struggling with an alcohol problem will likely start skipping classes (maybe to drink instead of going to class, maybe because of a hangover, or maybe because they are feeling depressed) and their grades will start to suffer.
- Binge Drinking- Binge drinking is common on college campuses, and while many may think it’s “normal,” to binge drink on the weekends, it is actually indicative of a problem with alcohol. Binge drinking can lead to blackouts, where an individual loses memory of what happened the night before. It is defines as having more than 4 drinks within 2 hours for females, and 5 drinks within 2 hours for males.
- Change in Physical Appearance- Someone who drinks in excess will start to appear differently, Channing states. They may lose or gain weight, have dark circles under their eyes, and appear tired and disheveled on a regular basis.
- Disciplinary Problems- Channing explains that substance abuse alters the mind and can lead a college student to engage in criminal activity. They may be charged with underage drinking or possession of a controlled substance, get arrested for a DUI, or things like vandalism and theft.
- Loss of Interest- Someone who has crossed the line with drinking is also likely to lose interest in extracurricular activities. This is usually due to the fact that they are becoming mentally or physically fatigued from drinking and not getting enough sleep, Channing says. A person who is drinking excessively is usually staying up late, sleeping in late, and missing important engagements.
- Change in Friends- A person’s circle of friends often changes the more they drink. Channing explains that this is because they may feel ashamed to be around friends who don’t drink the way they do, and prefer to become closer to people who engage in similar behaviors as themselves.
- Change in Mood- Many don’t realize this, but alcohol is actually a depressant, and will cause a shift in mood in someone who is using heavily. They may appear more irritable, negative, depressed, or angry. The after effects of alcohol can cause problems with anxiety, too.
- Participating in Reckless Behaviors- It’s very common to see someone with a drinking problem become more and more reckless with their behavior. They may drive drunk, have unprotected sex, engage in physical and/or verbal altercations, or engage in things like vandalizing property.
What you should do if drinking crosses the line:
- Approach your friend, but wait until the time is right- You never want to approach someone about a drinking problem while they are under the influence. Instead, wait until they (and you) are sober to bring up your concerns. Having a clear frame of mind will lessen the chance of an explosive argument, and may help the person to open up more.
- Stay positive- This may seem difficult, but speaking in an accusatory, demeaning, or negative manner will be counterproductive to your conversation. It can set a person on the defensive and cause them to shut down completely. Instead, try to stay positive and come from a place of care and concern.
- Remain focused on the problem, and not the person- It’s important to keep the conversation focused on the problem, excessive drinking, rather than on the person and their perceived shortcomings. Remember the fact that addiction is a disease that affects a person’s thinking and behavior, and that a problem with alcohol is not a personal failure.
- Encourage your friend to seek help- Addiction is a medical disorder that often needs treatment by a professional. Encourage your friend to get treatment with a counselor, doctor, or treatment program. Encourage them to reach out to a family member or their insurance company to help locate resources.
Excessive drinking poses a real and serious danger to college students. From failing grades to legal troubles, alcohol addiction can cause a person to lose the things they have worked hard for. If you notice that a friend is struggling with alcohol it’s important to reach out. Let them know that you care and that help is available. They don’t have to go through their struggles alone.
If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction or mental health, call Banyan Treatment Center today at 888-280-4763 for a free and confidential assessment. We have trained specialists available 24/7, so no call for help ever goes unanswered.