Alcohol Use in College Students: Experimenting with Alcohol or Binge Drinking?February 18, 2020
Around one-third of high school students drink alcohol monthly, but by the time these teens enter college, this number more than doubles. College students often consider experimenting with alcohol as a rite of passage and believe that even if it becomes a habit, it is something they will grow out of as they get older. For most college students, alcohol use is just experimentation. This even includes binge drinking. But, alcohol use during the college years can easily escalate for students with mental health issues. As a parent, it is important to monitor whether your child is just experimenting with alcohol or if their alcohol use is affecting their mental health (and vice versa).
Social Use and Experimentation
In a college environment, frequent drinking is more common than it is, say, when they enter the workplace. For many young adults, drinking is central to their expectations of life as a college student. Most social events in college, particularly as students are adjusting to college life, involve alcohol. This may be due to boredom, because it’s an easy way to socialize, or because young adults are in a stage in their lives where they want to explore and experiment with different identities, interests, and goals. Most college students continue to drink socially without experiencing any legal problems, health problems, or relationship struggles. However, students that are already vulnerable to these struggles are more likely to experience the consequences of drinking and not quite know how to handle them.
Binge Drinking in Young Adults
The problem with alcohol use in college students isn’t necessarily that they drink alcohol, even if they are underage. As many college students are just beginning to experiment with alcohol, they may not know how to set their limits. Binge drinking, or drinking 5 or more beverages in a single sitting, is common among college students who have not learned how to drink responsibly. Often, “peer pressure” is less about taking the first drink and more about continuing to drink to cope with social anxiety and wanting to fit in.
The Risks of Alcohol Use Depend on the Individual
Some college students who struggle with depression or anxiety believe that alcohol use is a more socially acceptable self-destructive behavior than alternatives. Therefore, they justify their binge drinking by comparing themselves to their peers, many of whom do not have the same mental health struggles. College students who drink alcohol are also more likely to befriend other people with similar drinking habits as they do, which offers a biased perspective of what’s normal. Ultimately, the risks of alcohol use depend on the individual. There are no guidelines set in stone that can accurately determine whether someone is a social drinker or a problem drinker.
Risk factors for problem drinking may include:
- Family history of substance use issues or mental health struggles
- Personal history of mental health struggles
- High levels of stress
- Low self-esteem
- Drinking alone
- Drinking interferes with other responsibilities or relationships
- Drinking to cope with emotions, rather than for fun
Looking at the Bigger Picture Through Adventure Therapy
At Trails Momentum, we believe that alcohol use can be one of many unhealthy coping mechanisms that young adults adopt to cope with mental health struggles. It is often easier for parents to focus on their child’s behaviors than to understand the underlying reasons they turn to those behaviors, especially if their child is unaware of or reluctant to name mental health struggles.
Instead of focusing on drinking habits and alcohol-related problems that the students we work with have experienced, we look at risk factors for future problems and help students learn healthier ways to resolve these issues.
Our adventure therapy model offers many of the same benefits as social drinking, but without long-term consequences, as we emphasize healthy risk-taking, socializing, and opportunities to strengthen relationships.
Trails Momentum Can Help
Trails Momentum is a wilderness therapy program for teens and young adults ages 18-25 to transition to independence and improved self-awareness. The program uses adventure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and a strength-based approach. It is a small and nurturing community that focuses on goals of improved self-regulation and overall functioning for young adults. Trails Momentum gives students the skills they need to lead healthier, happier lives. We can help your family today!
Contact us at 877-296-8711.