SILVIA OAKLAND, TRUMPET EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
College can give students the illusion of freedom. With this freedom comes the opportunity to begin drinking. College drinking culture terms like “Wine Wednesday,” “Thirsty Thursday” and “Sunday Funday,” can make it easy for students to normalize bad drinking habits.
“How do you know if you’re one of the ones that after you start drinking and you start having that pattern that it continues after college,” Arlene Prather-O’Kane, MA, RN and adjunct professor of public health at Wartburg College, said. said. “That might not be one of the things you can stop.”
According to a survey by the Wartburg Trumpet of 104 students, 57.3% of respondents claimed to have started to drink because of curiosity, another 16.5% said because of peer pressure and 4.9% said because of familial influence.
“Peer pressure is so immense … especially when you’re trying to make decisions on your own and you’re trying to think for yourself and trying to be an adult all those factors go into it,” Prather-O’Kane said. “Unfortunately a lot of kids, growing up their parents will offer them a beer or say you can drink at home. The problem is that alcoholism is a familial type of disease, so if them [their family members] are alcoholics there is already a higher percent chance of you possibly being an alcoholic.”
Common terminology can make it difficult to understand if someone has a problem with alcohol. The term “alcoholism” is often used to self-describe a problem with alcohol or by someone who is involved in Alcoholics Anonymous.
The term alcohol use disorder (AUD) is used by medical professionals to refer to someone who might be struggling with alcohol usage, according to The Recovery Village.
The criteria for AUD is met by 20% of college students, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The criteria for AUD includes 11 symptoms which occur throughout the period of a year.
If a person has two to three symptoms they are classified as mild, four to five they are classified as moderate and six or more they are classified as severe AUD. AUD can affect more than the person involved and can affect the relationships that a student has with professors, friends and family.
“Students aren’t drinking during the week, then they binge drink and some people only do that, but they’re still alcoholics because they are binge drinking,” PratherO’Kane said. “It can be very dangerous, when your body isn’t used to taking in all that alcohol you can get alcohol toxicity and you can die from that. It shouldn’t be taken lightly, even though I know it is sometimes.”
According to the Trumpet survey, 52.9% of students engage in binge drinking. The definition of binge drinking differs for men and women. For men, binge drinking includes having five or more drinks over the course of an hour. For women, it includes having four or more drinks over the course of an hour.
“I can remember my college days I was doing it just as much as anybody else, you feel like you have this freedom,” Prather-O’Kane said. “Unfortunately our brains aren’t really developed until we’re at least 26 so when you’re 18, 19, the frontal part of your brain isn’t developed yet so you’re doing things spontaneously, at risk, a lot more than even if you were four or five years older.”
Aurion Redding, third-year public health major, said because of the size of Wartburg’s campus and the lack of information about what there is to do in the area, drinking can become a form of fun and social life at Wartburg.
“A lot of students think they know it all, you give them a book and they have the recipe of the world,” Redding said. “They’re not going to think they have a problem, there’s always going to be a response like ‘oh I only do it on the weekends or I only have a few drinks’ instead of ‘I might have a problem.’”
Exactly 64.4% of respondents to the Trumpet survey said they drink to get drunk, but 97.1% of the respondents said they are always able to stop drinking when they want to.
“With a lot of the stresses that go with college some people don’t realize they end up depending on substances but especially alcohol because it’s more accessible,” Redding said. “Then they do develop problems that then follow them later on. Since it’s so taboo to discuss, the fact that there are problems people don’t then receive the help they need to get through it and solve those problems.”
Programs at Wartburg are in place for students to reach out if they are concerned about their drinking habits or the habits of others, but Redding said having more programs and speakers would allow students to be more educated and erase the stigma around substance abuse.
“By having programs or a speaker on campus that could talk about some of those topics could help students because it’s all about informing,” Redding said. “You don’t need to take a public health class, like ‘Drinking 101.’ I think college students in general should be a little more informed on what is happening to their body, knowing their limits, what binge drinking can do.”
To receive help or offer help to a friend, go to wartburg.edu/pathways to make an appointment, or go to aa.org/pages/en_US/ need-help-with-a-drinking-problem.