Alcohol Awareness Month: Drinking in School
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) founded Alcohol Awareness Month in April 1987 to provide education, resources, and reduce the stigma that is so often associated with alcoholism. NCADD continues to sponsor Alcohol Awareness Month each April by encouraging the public to speak out about the dangers of alcohol abuse, alcoholism, and recovery. The theme this year is “help for today, hope for tomorrow.”
With binge drinking so common among students due to high levels of stress, the dangers of alcohol abuse can be destructive to your success in optometry school. As studies are an integral part of your future, it is important to be aware of the dangers of binge drinking, how stress influences drinking, and be able to identify whether or not you have a problem with alcohol.
Dangers of Binge Drinking
Among college students, binge drinking is a common, exhilarating weekend activity. Binge drinking is characterized by drinking a large amount of alcohol (more than 4 drinks for women, 5 drinks for men) within a period of two hours. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that nearly 60% of college students ages 18-22 drink alcohol monthly, and nearly two-thirds of this group reported that they engaged in binge drinking.
While this type of drinking may seem like a normal thing to do while in school, it poses some serious health risks that many are unaware of. The same study found that nearly 1,825 students ages 18-24 die from alcohol related injuries and 97,000 students are a victim of sexual assault or rape while alcohol is involved. Perhaps the most shocking finding from this study is that nearly 20% of college students are thought to have an alcohol use disorder, characterized by unhealthy alcohol consumption that may affect other areas of life.
Stress and Drinking
As alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, many find it effective in reducing stress and anxiety. The pressure from classes and professors can certainly place a lot of stress on students, especially when studying a specialized field such as optometry. These stress levels can dramatically increase around exam time, as students are hurriedly trying to pack in as much studying as possible. Stress can also be enhanced due to pressure from family to perform well, societal pressures, and relationships. When trying to balance all of these factors with school, stress can become heavy and abundant.
In order to manage stress in a healthy way, students should be aware of the resources that are available to them. Many schools are well-equipped with a mental health counselor who can provide guidance on how to effectively manage stress. Other ways that can help alleviate stress include physical fitness, proper nutrition and diet, yoga, meditation, time management and planning, and support groups.
Evaluate your Relationship with Alcohol
An important part of Alcohol Awareness Month will take place April 5-7th. This weekend is being considered Alcohol-Free Weekend which is an open invitation to participate in 72 hours of complete abstinence from alcohol. If you choose to participate and experience any discomfort or difficulty abstaining from alcohol during this time, it may indicate that you have a problem with alcohol. While differentiating between heavy drinking and alcoholism may prove difficult, you can evaluate your relationship with alcohol by asking yourself these questions:
- Has drinking caused problems with your family, friends, work, or studies?
- Have you continued to drink even when you know you shouldn’t?
- Have you tried to quit drinking, or control the amount you drink, but found yourself unable to stop or control it?
- Do you frequently experience a craving, or strong desire, to drink?
- Have you found yourself having to consume increasing amounts of alcohol in order to achieve the effects you desire?
- Have you placed drinking as a higher priority than things that are important to you – such as studying, classes, or other obligations?
- Have you found yourself experiencing withdrawal symptoms, like insomnia, nausea, shaking, sweating, depression, or irritability when you don’t drink?
If you answer yes to several or all of these questions, it is a good indication that your relationship with alcohol has become unhealthy and you may have an alcohol use disorder. If you think you have a problem with alcohol, it is essential to get the help you need before it causes detrimental effects on your health, your education, or your future career.
With the opioid crisis taking over news headlines today, it is easy to forget that alcohol still poses serious dangers to those who abuse it. It is imperative to provide education about the risks of binge drinking among students as well as resources to those who need help with an alcohol use disorder.