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College Binge Drinker or Alcoholic?

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If you have ever set foot on a college campus before, you know that alcohol plays a fairly prominent role in the daily lives of many students. Many times, when a kid leaves for college, it is the first time in their lives that they will be free from the constant rules and pressures of living at home. This presents them with ample opportunity to engage in a number of activities that they could not have gotten away with at home. Chief amongst these new opportunities is the ability to drink alcohol whenever they mood strikes. On college campuses around the country, the mood strikes often.

College Binge Drinker


Every year, psychiatrists from around the country attend a conference to update the latest edition of the “Psychiatry’s Diagnostic Manual”, or DSM 5. This manual is used by medical practitioners all over the country to help them determine a person’s psychological ailment. One of the biggest changes to this year’s edition was the reclassification of alcoholism among college aged people. Basically, the new manual classifies anyone who binge drinks regularly, which almost 40% of college students report doing, as an alcoholic. Think about that. Psychiatrists around the country have come to the conclusion that 4 out of every 10 college students is an alcoholic.


In the previous edition of the DSM 5, alcohol and drug problems were classified in one of two ways. The first, “substance abuse”, refers to a relatively short-term problem. It means that a person with this condition is likely to correct it and will not suffer any harmful, long-term effects. The second, “substance dependency”, is a little more tricky. It refers to addiction and alcoholism, which can lead a person to have terrible health consequences down the road.


The new edition of the manual changes things up a little bit in regards to alcohol and drug use. Psychiatrists decided to take out the term “dependence”. Dependence refers to a person that physically needs a drug to function. It does not mean addiction. They also got rid of the term “abuse”. However, the consequence of broadening the definition of these problems led psychiatrists to make a startling conclusion. Their new definition of what constitutes an alcoholic has expanded exponentially. With this new definition, they have concluded that the number of people in the United States that should be classified as alcoholics will immediately rise 60%. Overnight.

Whether or not 40% of college students are technically “alcoholics” or not is probably irrelevant. Many of them will curtail their drinking when they graduate. However, many will also continue to drink heavily. It is counter-productive to stigmatize college students with harmful labels that might be more accurately applied to individuals who aren’t in a college campus setting.  What is important is that we continue to educate young people who are about to head off to college about the dangers of alcohol abuse. It is imperative that kids know, going into college, that they will be tempted to drink much more than they ever had in their life. By informing and educating young people about the inherent dangers of binge drinking we will be able to curb the number of college aged “alcoholics”. Excessive drinking in college in not a new phenomenon and anyone who thinks they may have a problem should seek an alcohol rehabilitation center.

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