Although alcohol use is illegal for anyone under the age of 21, drinking and alcohol abuse are prevalent in college age students across the country. The responsible use of alcohol involves understanding the effects of alcohol physically, emotionally, socially, and cognitively. Learning to recognize potential warning signs of alcohol abuse is also an important part of responsible drinking.
Alcohol and its Effects
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, that is, a drug that slows down the nervous system. As you drink, alcohol enters your bloodstream and affects your brain, where it alters your response time, your motor responses, reflexes, and balance, your muscle control, your judgment and ability to delay or inhibit your words and actions, and your emotions. Although alcohol use in moderation is considered socially acceptable in many parts of our culture today, excessive use and/or abuse of alcohol is associated with significant problems, for the individual and for society.
Alcohol abuse and dependence in the individual has both short and long term consequences. These include liver damage, damage to brain cells, cardiovascular disease, blackouts, withdrawal symptoms, and hallucinations. While these conditions generally occur when someone abuses alcohol over an extended period of time, even a single episode of excessive drinking can lead to unconsciousness and/or death, if the amount of alcohol consumed is sufficiently large.
Alcohol abuse and irresponsible drinking frequently lead to other problems for students. Heavy drinking can disrupt sleeping and eating habits, and can lower one’s resistance to illness. By disrupting concentration and class attendance (e.g. secondary to a hangover), excessive drinking can lead to poor grades and academic failure. The slowed reaction times and impaired judgment that accompany alcohol use frequently contribute to accidents or injuries, legal difficulties, increased aggression, and risky behavior, including unplanned sexual activity.
There are many warning signs that accompany inappropriate use of alcohol. These include:
• Inability to stop drinking once started; getting drunk when the intention was to have a couple drinks.
• Drinking before class, or in the morning
• Drinking to cope with or escape from pressures
• Drinking and driving under the influence of alcohol
• Injuries, accidents, aggressive behavior as the result of drinking
• Frequently drinking to the point of intoxication
• Developing a tolerance; requiring more and more alcohol to achieve the same effect
• Blackouts or memory loss as a result of drinking
• Drinking in order to feel comfortable with others socially
• Drinking alone
• Drinking to cope with anger, sadness, frustration or other unpleasant emotions
• Legal involvement related to drinking: DWIs, charges of drunk in public or drunk and disorderly
Although inappropriate use of alcohol does not necessarily mean that an individual is an alcoholic, it does suggest that the individual evaluate his/her drinking behavior, perhaps with the help of a mental health or professional or a substance abuse counselor. If you or someone you know would like more information about alcohol abuse, responsible drinking, or helping resources, you may contact the Talley Center for Counseling Services or the following:
UMW Wellness Resource Office at the Fitness Center
Alcoholics Anonymous Fredericksburg: 540- 373- 2028
Rappahannock Area Community Services Board: 540-373-6876
Snowden at Fredericksburg: 540-741-3900