My best friend, Emily, is the computer-coding brainiac with a full-ride scholarship. She’s the tough athlete who even the guys are afraid of (because she would kick their ass in any sport she picked up.) She’s the blue-eyed, blonde bombshell. But she’s certainly no alcoholic, I thought.
Yes, sometimes she drank too much. But we’ve all had those nights, right? Yes, sometimes her drinking scared me. But she always assured me that she was “ok“.
I was a sophomore in college, not even 21 when she sent me the text.
She was checking herself into rehab.
I couldn’t wrap my mind around it all. Was she really an alcoholic?
Truthfully, I didn’t see it coming. I’m embarrassed to admit it now, but I thought it was just a phase. Heavy drinking is just part of college for some people. And after that you grow out of it, right?
“You’re not an alcoholic until after college.” Right?
My friend certainly wasn’t the only college student who was drinking heavily, which was part of the reason I never saw it as a serious issue. Four out of five college students drink, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Half of those students also binge drink, meaning they consume four or more drinks (for women) and five or more drinks (for men) in two hours.
But alcoholism is more than just occasional binge drinking. Alcoholism is an addiction.
There is a variety of signs and symptoms. However, Alcoholics Anonymous says, “If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably an alcoholic.”
Before you roll your eyes and click back to your Facebook feed, hear me out. I’m sure by now you’re tired of hearing about how all college students are alcoholics. About how all we do is party. We all know that’s not true, but we also know that hardcore drinking is ingrained in college culture.
We constantly hear about the risks of drinking in college: failing classes, unprotected sex, rape, or even death. But alcoholism isn’t usually mixed into the conversation.
Serious alcoholism isn’t a problem while you’re IN college, right?
Wrong. In fact, the CDC reports that those aged 18-24 were found MOST likely to be alcohol dependent, compared to any other age group.
This proves that the alcoholic isn’t always the homeless and jobless man with the “Why lie? It’s for beer” sign.
Sometimes the alcoholic is the freshman living on your floor who stumbles in the morning after she blacked out at another fraternity swap. Sometimes it’s the senior architecture major, who can’t get through a day in the studio without downing a few beers.
Sometimes the alcoholic is your high school best friend, and you’re honestly just too misinformed to realize it.
There are alcoholics in college, and you might know one. But we’re telling people that their addiction isn’t a problem just because they’re students. It’s a common expression among young people, one that even I’ve used.
Emily (who has been sober for a few years now) will even admit that she used the fact that she was in college to convince herself and the people around her that she didn’t actually have a problem. That phrase may seem harmless, but it’s a coping mechanism. And it’s making alcoholism–a serious addiction–seem like a joke.
I’m not saying you’re an alcoholic if you’ve used that phrase. I’m not saying your friends are alcoholics if they’ve used that phrase. And just because you drink or even binge drink, it doesn’t mean you have an addiction. But I do think it’s time we reconsider our view of alcoholism in college. If we can better educate ourselves on alcohol abuse and addiction, maybe we can all help our friends (or ourselves) a little sooner.
No one’s an alcoholic until after college? Well, I’m not buying that anymore, and you shouldn’t either.
If you think you or a friend may have a problem with alcohol and want to know more about what defines an alcoholic, take this test.