When does drinking become a problem?
Drinking becomes a problem when a person starts to regularly experience negative consequences due to their alcohol consumption.
Red flags typical of someone who is drinking too much include:
- spending too much money on alcohol
- frequent hangovers
- skipping school or work
- accidental injuries
- legal problems
- high-risk sexual practices
- unwanted sexual contact
These negative consequences can happen at a variety of drinking levels. A person who binge drinks several times per month may have more problems than someone who drinks moderately every day.
In general, people who stay within both the recommended single day and per week guidelines are very unlikely to develop a drinking problem. Only 9% (less than 1 in 10) of the US adult population exceeds both the daily and weekly guidelines.
What is the norm?
Although it is true that college students drink more than non-college students, it is a MYTH that all college students drink.
According to a 2012 survey:
- 1/3 of the ETSU student population does not drink regularly or at all
- Only about 20% of ETSU students engage in binge drinking regularly (during the last month)
- Most ETSU students drink in low risk ways
For some students, it feels like heavy drinking is more common than this.
Social norm research has shown that overestimating the amount others drink is a frequent mistake. This is especially true within certain campus subpopulations or specific friend groups.
One of the best ways to avoid a drinking problem is to avoid high-risk drinking peer groups
check out what the CDC has to say
A blackout is a period of amnesia caused by severe alcohol intoxication during which a person actively engages in behaviors like walking and talking but does not create memories for these events as they transpire. This results in missing periods of time in the person’s autobiographical record. Depending on how impaired the brain is, missing events could range from mundane behaviors like brushing your teeth and getting into bed, to dangerous and traumatic events like driving a car, getting into a fight or committing—or being the victim of—a sexual assault or other crime.
The risk for blackouts increases at a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of .15 or greater. Behavior during a blackout is very unpredictable. People who have experienced a blackout before are at higher risk for blackouts in the future. To avoid this risk, keep your BAC at the perfect buzz (less than .08).
Alcohol Poisoning Requires Immediate Medical Attention!
Drinking black coffee, taking a cold bath or shower, or sleeping or walking it off can not reverse alcohol poisoning. The victim must have immediate medical attention.
Call 911, stay with the victim to prevent them from choking on vomit, and tell emergency personnel how much alcohol the victim drank.
Alcohol depresses nerves that control involuntary actions such as breathing, heartbeat, and the gag reflex that prevents choking. A fatal dose of alcohol will eventually stop these functions.
Even after an individual stops drinking, alcohol continues to be absorbed through the stomach. NEVER put a drunk person to bed alone to "sleep it off." Always stay with them to monitor their condition.
The following are signs of alcohol poisoning:
- Mental confusion
- Stupor (barely conscious, not making any sense)
- Coma(unable to wake up the person/no response to pinching the skin)
- Vomiting while sleeping
- Slowed breathing (fewer than 8 breaths per minute)
- Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
- Hypothermia (low body temperature)
- Pale or blue skin
- Passed out
Don’t believe the urban myths, nothing sobers you up but time.
It takes about one full hour for the human body to completely process one standard drink (SD) of alcohol—that is to return BAC to 0.00. This means that if you go to bed dizzy and disoriented at 2AM after a night of heavy drinking, and your BAC is .20, you will still be intoxicated (.110) in the morning when you drive to school for you 8 o’clock class. Not only could you get a DUI, but you won’t be totally sober until 4 o’clock in the afternoon!!!
As for caffeine, it has no effect on BAC; it just makes you a more alert and energized drunk, at higher risk for doing something stupid and hurting yourself.
Sex & Relationships mixed with Alcohol
Almost all family and relationship violence is connected to alcohol or drug misuse. Alcohol lowers a person’s inhibitions, making them more prone to anger. Interpersonal violence is always unacceptable and is a red flag that a person has a drinking problem.
It is impossible to give legal consent for sex when a person is incapacitated due to the effect of drugs or alcohol. So if you or your partner are legally drunk (BAC > .07), don’t have sex.
Drunk sex is sexual assault, not to mention all the other possible problems:
- having sex with someone you later regret
- failing to use protection
- having sexual performance problems.
Avoiding drunk sex is just another good reason to learn to moderate your alcohol use!
75% of all sexual assaults on college campuses involve alcohol! In addition 9 out of 10 involve someone the survivor knows and trusts.
In addition to the penalties imposed by the State of Tennessee, individuals arrested for DUI on University property are subject to the ETSU judicial process which may impose additional fines, require additional community service, mandate alcohol and drug screening and treatment, and result in the loss of a campus parking pass.
This is a slang term that refers to a real problem in which a person restricts food calories to make room for alcoholic drink calories. Some people may even purge both their food and alcohol to avoid the calories. These behaviors most often stem from the fear of weight gain and are more prevalent in college-aged women, although men also experience them. In extreme cases, drunkorexiamay be related to bulimia or anorexia, in which the alcohol is used to make vomiting easier or to help manage eating anxieties. However, individuals without eating disorders that restrict their caloric intake before going out are also at high risk for negative consequences
Curtailing food calories in favor of drink calories carries several risks:
- Drinking on an empty stomach gets you drunk faster, which typically leads to a higher Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC), which in turn increases the likelihood of negative consequences especially making bad decisions.
- Food and drink restriction often causes dehydration which further increases the risk of intoxication by decreasing blood volume.
- Caloric reduction may also lead to binge eating due to extreme hunger, which is some people triggers a purging episode.
- Substituting alcohol for food calories puts a person at long-term risk of not getting the nutrients needed to function properly.
Alcohol & Sleep Problems
A little-known but critical negative consequence of drinking too much is sleep disruption. This is especially true for college students, as a lack of sleep interferes with the acquisition of learned material. It also increases day-time drowsiness and has been connected to mood problems, such as depression.
According to research findings. although alcohol does allow healthy people to fall asleep quicker and sleep more deeply for a while, it reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is necessary for real rest. And the more you drink before bed, the more pronounced these effects.
Learn more about sleep deprivation in college students.
Mixing Alcohol & Energy Drinks /Caffeine
When alcoholic beverages are mixed with energy drinks the caffeine in these drinks can mask the depressant effects of alcohol-- such as a decrease in energy, feeling drowsy, or sometimes getting sad. These depressant effects are often effective cues to stop drinking, for people who want to moderate their drinking. With caffeine on board, the likelihood of binge drinking increases, as does the likelihood of risk-taking behaviors and physical injury (which is the most frequent reason that college students who have had too much to drink go to the hospital).
It is also important to note, that caffeine has no effect on the metabolism of alcohol by the liver and thus does not reduce blood alcohol concentrations (BAC). The bottom line is that caffeine does NOT sober someone up, it just makes them a more energetic drunk, with increased risk of negative consequences such as a DUI
Mixing Alcohol and Other Drugs
There a many very dangerous alcohol and drug combinations. Even marijuana poses a risk when combined with very large amounts of alcohol, as it reduces the body’s natural tendency to throw up: vomiting is a positive response to alcohol poisoning in that it empties stomach contents and potentially prevents Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) from rising further.
Other common, but extremely risky combos are: mixing alcohol with prescription drugs such as relaxants and pain killers (this can cause breathing to stop); mixing alcohol with cocaine which results in the creation of a highly toxic metabolic byproduct, cocaethylene, which damages the users heart.
learn more about Harmful Interactions
More is not better
The human body has a biphasic response to alcohol. In low rising amounts it is a stimulant, causing euphoria. However in high falling amounts (Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of greater than .08) it is a depressant, causing among other things feelings of sadness or even anger.
This is in addition to the other increasing predictable effects of alcohol: decreased judgment; reduced impulse control; muscular discoordination, including vision and speech; nausea & vomiting; memory loss; slowed breathing, seizures and even death.
To maintain the "perfect buzz," getting all the benefits from alcohol, but none of the drawbacks. individuals should strive to drink in a way that keeps BAC between .05-07.
Men vs. Women
Due to biological differences, men and women process alcohol differently. Specifically, women produce 25% less of the enzyme, alcohol dehydrogenase, that breaks down alcohol in the stomach. This means that in women, more alcohol gets directly into the bloodstream than in men, resulting in a higher Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC).
For this reason men and women should never try to match drinks with each other. Even if a woman has developed tolerance to the predictable effects of alcohol due to regularly drinking large amounts, and she appears to be able to "hold her booze," her BAC will reach dangerously high levels before a man. It is high BAC that causes both short-term and long-term negative effects in the body. This is another reason to strive to maintain the "perfect buzz."
Big People vs. Little People
Due to differences in blood volume, big people and little people can't drink the same either. In a large individual alcohol is more diluted in the blood stream, resulting in a lower Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC); in smaller individuals the alcohol is more concentrated resulting in a higher BAC.
For this reason, big people and little people should also never try to match drinks. This is especially true when a large male and a small female are drinking together.
What is a Standard Drink?
The #1 reason why the use of alcohol by college students is the greatest public health risk faced by this population is the increased risk of accidental injury when a person is drunk.
Being intoxicated causes both a decrease in muscle coordination (including vision) and an increase in impulsivity and risk taking. This is a dangerous combination and sends thousands of students to the Emergency Room every year for everything from simple cuts, to bone breaks, to serious head injuries caused by falls.
Bystander intervention is critical. If you see a friend doing something stupid, intervene.