People and alcohol have a long, complicated history. Archeological evidence suggests that we’ve been producing and consuming alcoholic drinks from as early as 10,000 BC. Since then, alcohol production and consumption has had a profound impact on the course of history across the world; in various times and places, it’s been valued as a gift from god, to a public health danger, which leads to violence and moral failure.
April is Alcohol Awareness Month. Since 1987, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) has worked to raise public awareness in April of each year to encourage discussion and promote a focus on tackling alcohol-related issues. The theme for 2018 is “Changing Attitudes: It’s not a ‘rite of passage’” – raising a spotlight on the hazards of alcohol use by youth including binge drinking and the aggravating effects of peer pressure.
In universities and colleges across America, it’s no secret that drinking is a significant part of student culture. Research shows that more than 80 percent of college students drink, with nearly half reporting binge drinking (4-5 drinks within a two-hour period) within the past two weeks.
Given this year’s youth focus, in today’s blogpost, we’re going to look at 5 ways alcohol could hurt your wellbeing and success in school.
- Alcohol alters your chemistry
Chemically speaking, alcohol is a depressant, which means that it lowers neurotransmission levels, which reduces the function of the central nervous stem; reducing arousal, stimulation in the brain. Other drugs that fall into this category include sedatives, tranquilizers and anesthetics. The chemical changes that can result from the use of depressants can impair thinking, coordination, perception and more. At best, the depressant effects can lower inhibition and create feelings of euphoria. At their worst, depressants can lead to nausea (and vomiting), unconsciousness and even death. It’s important that when you consume alcohol, you understand it for what it is and the unintended effects it can cause.
- Alcohol can exasperate depression
While we’ve covered that alcohol is a depressant, it’s important that we don’t assume that depressants inherently cause depression. That being said, the evidence shows that alcohol can antagonize and worsen depression. Regular consumption can lead to lower levels of serotonin – a chemical that helps to regulate mood. Becoming dependent, alcohol negatively affecting relationships and feeling physically weakened after drinking can also all cause or exasperate feelings of depression or sow the conditions for it. Depression can significantly affect your motivation and ability to complete your classes, maintain relationships and succeed. And alcohol can aggravate it further. On an even scarier note, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that more than one fifth of suicide victims had a blood-alcohol content at or above the legal limit.
- Alcohol can damage your memory
Ever woken up after a night of heavy drinking without the foggiest idea of what happened and how you ended up here? Blacking out or alcohol related amnesia happens when your blood alcohol rises too quickly and your brain temporarily loses the ability to create new memories. Research shows that some people are more genetically predisposed to blacking out than their peers. Obviously, a lack of memory is a liability – not remembering what happened can cause serious stress and anxiety.
It’s not just short-term memory either – alcohol can impact your long-term memory If you’re studying for an important exam while drinking, you’ll be facing an uphill battle.
- Alcohol can increase risky behaviour; injury
Hold my beer! While we often drink because we want to lower our inhibitions and increase confidence, it’s important to remember that these behavioural processes are also important for helping us make smart judgement calls. High confidence and a lack of judgement spurred by alcohol can lead to an overestimation of physical prowess (can you even do a backflip sober?) to a false assumption that you’re sober enough to drive. The World Health Organization estimates that nearly one-fifth of emergency room visits in hospitals world wide have alcohol as a factor. While a few scrapes and bumps might not dampen your studies, a serious concussion or life-altering accident could.
- Those who drink more fall behind
Research from the Harvard School of Public Health found that students that students that reported poor mental health and consumed alcohol were 29% more likely to fall behind in school work. A 2013 study corroborates these results and finds that “heavy episodic drinking” is very likely to have negative consequences on academic motivation and performance; citing knock-on effects like sleep disruption, memory loss and more.
What can be done?
For students, avoiding alcohol entirely can be a challenge. In these cases, moderation is key. Being aware of the risks of alcohol, avoiding binge drinking, seeking counselling when alcohol becomes a crutch are critical ways to ensure that you don’t let alcohol negatively impact your mental health.
If you feel that alcohol has become a problem for you, get in touch with your school’s counselling and mental health support services to see a counselor or see if there are alcohol abuse support programs in your community. Acknowledging you need help – and seeking it – are the first and most important steps to taking back control of your wellbeing from alcohol.
And as part of Alcohol Awareness Month, the NCADD encourages trying out an alcohol-free weekend. Give it a shot – you might be surprised about how well you can feel (and productive you can be) on a Saturday or Sunday morning!