“It’s not considered alcoholism until after you graduate,” so the saying goes. You may have heard these words echoed throughout UNC’s campus before. In fact, it’s not uncommon for this saying to be heard on any campus in this country. Someone, somewhere formulated an idea that drinking excessively in college is not only okay, but normal. However, once you leave college, drinking in abundance no longer becomes okay or normal. With a degree in hand, you are suddenly an alcoholic. Here is some word-math to break the saying down:
college student + drinking excessively = not an alcoholic.
college graduate + drinking excessively = you’re an alcoholic.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t necessarily believe this math adds up. I decided to dig into the research and see what real scientists and doctors have to say about this.
For starters, alcoholism has no age limit. Alcoholism can affect anyone, at any time. Of course, alcoholism doesn’t just happen out of the blue. It takes time. I’m not talking about the few seconds it takes to walk across the stage to grab your diploma and head off into the sunset, I’m talking months to years. So how, then, does alcoholism start to brew? (Yes, pun was totally intended.) Well, this time period can be characterized by an “almost alcoholic” stage. Let me explain…
There is a common belief in our society that you are either an alcoholic or not. You have a problem with alcohol, or you don’t. Unfortunately, it’s not as clear cut as that. Two doctors, Doyle & Nowinski, found that there is a spectrum when it comes to drinking behavior. The spectrum ranges from “Normal Social Drinkers” to “Almost Alcoholics” to “Alcoholics”.
The “Almost Alcoholics” stage is characterized by these traits:
- You continue drinking the way you always have despite one or more negative consequences. (Like getting an underage drinking ticket, DWI, getting into trouble in the dorms, having a hangover, being sent to the emergency room, etc.)
- You look forward to drinking. (For example, not drinking all week and anxiously waiting to get drunk on the weekends.)
- You drink alone and not just socially. (This doesn’t necessarily mean going “ham” by yourself. A lot of different factors come into play here, mainly your reasoning behind drinking alone.)
- You sometimes drink to control an emotion or physical symptom. (For example, drinking to relieve social shyness, anxiety, stress, boredom, or physical pain.)
- You and/or your loved ones are suffering as a result of your drinking. (This could include saying or doing things you did not intend to a friend/family member while you were drinking, or a friend having to care for you while you are drunk, etc.)
You may be thinking, what’s the big deal? A lot of college students have some of these qualities associated with being an “almost alcoholic,” and they’re all fine. I had the exact thoughts. A lot of people may view it this way too. It’s because, in the world of college, the “almost alcoholic” stage has been normalized. It is being replaced with the label: “being a college student.” No one ever talks about this, because they assume it’s just how young adults behave for a period of time until they graduate college and enter “real life.” The thing is, real life is always happening. Whether you are in college or not.
These doctors did not decide to make up the “almost alcoholic” part of the drinking behavior spectrum to crush spirits. I am pretty sure they are just trying to say, “Hey, sometimes drinking can cause problems, and sometimes if you don’t take a step back to think about these problems, it could turn into a disorder like alcoholism.” And a disorder like alcoholism, is nothing to joke about.
This post is not meant to point fingers, and say, “You are definitely an ‘Almost Alcoholic’, you need to get yourself together.” But it is meant to inform you about the spectrum of drinking behavior, and how part of that spectrum has been normalized in college culture.
If you are looking for more resources on this topic, here are a few:
- Read a story about a college student who found herself in the “almost alcoholic” stage: http://www.ravishly.com/2014/10/23/confession-im-almost-alcoholic
- If some of the characteristics of the “almost alcoholic” stage resonate with you or someone you know, you can take this quiz to discover more: http://bottomlineinc.com/is-someone-you-know-an-almost-alcoholic-take-the-/
- You can check out the book, Almost Alcoholic by Robert Doyle, MD & Joseph Nowinski, PhD.
You can also make an appointment in the BASICS program to talk to an Alcohol and Drug Prevention Specialist about concerns/questions you may have about drinking. BASICS stands for Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students. BASICS is completely confidential, and free if you refer yourself. You can contact firstname.lastname@example.org at any time!