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Alcohol and Other Drugs

For many students, going away to college is the point in life when they begin the experience of making their own decisions about their life on a day-to-day basis. There are many fewer constraints on choices, and without parents nearby to enforce their rules, adverse consequences often appear to be remote or nonexistent. It is not surprising that college is a time of personal experimentation in many areas of behavior. In fact, much of the personal growth that occurs during the college years occurs outside of the class room, through this process of experimentation.

One area where students have the opportunity to experiment is with their use of alcohol. Though colleges do not endorse drinking for students under the legal drinking age, students vary in whether they choose to drink alcohol.

The Counseling Center is a resource for students who are struggling with issues relating to alcohol and other substance abuse. We encourage you to make an appointment with a counselor at the Counseling Center if you have questions, would like to pursue treatment, or could use a listening ear and support. For information on how to make an appointment, click here.

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Patterns of Alcohol Use in College

Nationally, a very large majority, about 80 percent, of college students use alcohol. The research on college student drinking is interesting in that it shows that more than 70 percent of college students report that when they drink:

  • They drink four or fewer drinks on any one occasion of drinking. This points to the fact that a very significant majority of students drink moderately, if at all and many students select a level of drinking which places them within a comparatively safe range.
  • Other independent research has shown that people who drink fewer than five drinks on any occasion are much less likely to find themselves in trouble because of their drinking, than people who drink five or more drinks. Presumably this relates to the general level of intoxication where judgment is so clouded that people make poor choices.
  • Between 25 and 30 percent of college students drink alcohol at a level that is regarded as problematic in the general population. Were they to continue drinking at this level in the longer term, they may develop a dependency on alcohol.
  • About two-thirds of the students who drink at this problematic level have reduced their drinking significantly with months or years of leaving college. The remaining one-third (of the 25 to 30 percent who drink at this level) continues drinking and is subject to all of the many problems associated with long-term alcohol misuse.
  • Unfortunately, it is not possible to distinguish clearly between those students whose drinking is a short-term part of their college experience, and those who will go on to struggle with the problems of alcoholism. Therefore, it probably is most accurate to say that heavy drinking in college is a risk factor for the development of alcoholism in later life.


Signs of Substance Misuse and Abuse

People often put a great deal of energy into the question: Is she/he an alcoholic or drug addict? The answer to this question requires a professional evaluation. The most important question is: Is her/his alcohol or drug use causing a problem in their life? A concerned person can identify areas of concern and seek more information, not to diagnose or accuse, but to help the individual clarify their situation.


Areas of Concern

The following is a list of some common signs that a person may be misusing alcohol or other drugs. While there is no “stereotypic” misuser, these guidelines may help you to see some of the more subtle signs of misuse.

Alcohol or Other Drug Use
  • Frequent use to intoxication or infrequent use that almost always leads to intoxication.
  • Frequent excessive use with negative consequences.
  • Continued use despite negative consequences.
  • Unsuccessfully attempts to quit or cut-down.
  • Loss of control over consumption, e.g., says, “I am only going to have a few,” but ends up intoxicated.
  • Very concerned with maintaining a supply of chosen chemical.
  • Blames problems related to use on other people and things, e.g., parents, friends, significant other, stress, school.
  • Experiences blackouts, e.g., does not remember parts of an episode of use.
  • Does things while intoxicated or as a result of intoxication that goes against their morals/values (e.g., promiscuous sex, misses classes and/or does not study, misses work, gets in verbal or physical fights, etc.)
Physical Status
  • Shows decreased concern with personal appearance.
  • Changes in degree of alertness (from day-to-day or hour-to-hour).
  • Frequent changes in levels of energy and/or activity.
  • Change in weight (decrease or increase).
  • Frequent accidents, e.g., falling, cuts, burns, auto accidents.
Emotional Expression
  • Person appears depressed or negative about life when not using.
  • Mood changes dramatically when using, e.g., crying, hostile, self-abusive.
  • Expresses remorse (after an episode of inappropriate behavior) and promises to change.
  • Copes poorly with stress. Uses stress as a reason for using substances.
Interpersonal Relationships
  • Begins spending more time with those who use heavily.
  • Social activities generally involve alcohol/drugs.
  • Denies any problems, may become angry or hostile when concern is expressed about use.
  • Avoids contact with concerned persons.
  • Gets into more arguments and fights with friends, significant others, and family.
  • Might be more likely to defy rules or resent authority.
Academic Performance
  • Gradual or sudden decline in grades.
  • Reduced amount of time spent on studies.
  • Skips classes more frequently.
  • Drops courses.
  • Schedules classes around use, e.g., avoids morning classes, classes where tests are given on Friday morning.


These are some of the possible signs. It is important to note that many of them could be due to other causes, like depression or difficulties at home or in school. A caring person can reach out to a friend, not suggesting “you have a problem,” but saying “I am concerned about you”. If you see some of these signs in yourself or someone you care about, you may want to visit or call the Counseling Center (424-2061) to get more information.

Visit the College Drinking Prevention website:


Harm Reduction

In reality, the risks for most college students are not from the drinking, per se, but from the physical and legal/administrative risks which can occur as a consequence of the circumstances of the drinking. If you are among the students who already are using or expecting to be using alcohol, it is desirable to be aware of some of the facts relating to its use so that you are in the best position to make informed judgments. The purpose of this discussion is to raise issues and provide information to consider. As you weigh the facts and make your judgments, a major goal to keep in mind is to minimize the risks to yourself, both physical risks and risks to your good standing as a student and as good citizen. The range of potential risk is enormous, going from mild (e.g., hangover symptoms or a single missed class or assignment) to very severe (e.g., serious accidental injury or death). Yet, even at the relatively mild end of the continuum, alcohol related problems can lead to prolonged aggravation and expense. In this sense, a thoughtful student might think about their plans for using alcohol with an eye on “harm reduction strategies.”

If you are going to choose to use alcohol, as most students do, you can choose to do so in ways which are calculated to reduce the risks to you. Nothing will eliminate the risk entirely, but certain calculations will diminish the risk to more acceptable levels.

First, it is clear that for most college students, those under twenty-one, the possession and use of alcohol are illegal and involve a risk of criminal prosecution. In fact, about 40 percent of college students face disciplinary action for their use of an illegal substance (primarily alcohol) at some point in their college career. Fortunately, for most, this is a one-time event only which does not lead to any enduring consequences. For some, however, the administrative or legal consequences can be severe and even life altering.

To avoid this sort of difficulty, you will need to make choices about when, where and with whom you will drink, as well as about the amount you will drink. Here are some points to keep in mind.

  • Drinking with people who drink very heavily themselves, and who are likely to be pressuring about how much others should drink, is likely to be risky.
  • Drinking in loud social settings with many drinkers tends to invite legal/administrative attention.
  • Drinking with people you do not know well, especially when you are unaccompanied by a trusted friend is very risky. In fact, it probably should be a basic rule that you will not enter any drinking social event unless you and at least one friend have agreed to look after each other and to stay in close contact.
  • Moderating how much you drink is very important. Set a limit and stick to it.


Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)

How Gender and Size Influencing BAC

Size influences alcohol tolerance, such that smaller people have less tolerance than larger people. Gender is also a significant influence. A woman drinking an equal amount of alcohol in the same period of time as a man of an equivalent weight may have a higher blood alcohol level than that man. The gender difference is due to metabolic differences in how the body processes alcohol. Women must exercise particular restraint if they are to achieve moderate alcohol consumption.

For most people, drinking about one drink an hour can be considered to be a good target to maintain safe, low risk levels of consumption. This is the rate at which most people’s bodies can metabolize alcohol. It should be noted that “one drink” refers to 1 1/2 ounces of liquor, 12 ounces of beer or 5 ounces of wine; these all contain approximately the same amount of alcohol, and usually are referred to a “standard drink.”

View the Blood Alcohol Calculator.



According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a driver's ability to divide attention between two or more sources of visual information can be impaired by BACs [BAC = Blood Alcohol Concentration] of .02 percent or lower. Two drinks in one hour would make most males and females exceed .02. At BAC of .05 percent or more impairment occurs consistently in eye movements, glare resistance, visual perception, reaction time, certain types of steering tasks, information processing, and other aspects of psychomotor performance. Thus, driving safety is decreased even by a very low level of alcohol consumption.


How to Help a Friend

It is an act of great caring to share your concern with someone if you believe they are doing something that is causing them harm. It is not a confrontation, conviction, or personal attack to tell someone you care enough about them to talk about what’s going on and to offer a helping hand.

General Principles

  • Ignoring self-defeating behavior is not helpful to the person about whom you are concerned.
  • Helpful intervention is a process; not an event.
  • When people are confronted about behavior that is a part of their lifestyle, they may become defensive and angry.
  • The more you learn about alcohol and other drugs effects, the more helpful you can be to those who are having problems with them.


Attempt to:

  • Let the person know you care about him/her by using “I” messages, e.g., “I’m worried about you”.
  • Try to remain calm.
  • Refer to specific and observable behaviors, e.g. “I am worried because you have been drinking three nights a week for the past month and your grades are falling”.
  • Remain non-judgmental. Emphasize the contrast between the person’s positive sober behavior and the intoxicated behavior or negative life effects which concerns you.
  • Use gentle persistence.
  • Anticipate possible responses (minimize, change topic, make excuses, promise to change, challenge your use).
  • Accept their anger; don’t argue or get angry in return.
  • Be ready to provide education (printed information, a list of campus and community resources, pamphlets on abuse).
  • Utilize your own support system (talk with a support person before and/or after).


Try to Avoid:

  • Arguing with the person.
  • Getting angry and losing control.
  • Letting him/her change the topic.
  • Getting hooked by their defensiveness (don’t feel guilty or take it personally).
  • Delaying the discussion; it should be done as soon as possible after an incident and after the person is sober.
  • Diagnosing e.g., “You’re an alcoholic”.
  • Sparing the person from the consequences of his/her use.


If a person/student is willing to accept professional help, give them all the information you can about their various options. The University Counseling Center is a great place to start because they provide students free and confidential evaluation, treatment, and referral services. Call us at 424-2061.


Winnebago County Alcoholic Anonymous Meetings

Alcoholics Anonymous® is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for AA membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.

It is not appropriate to attend this closed meeting solely for educational purposes.  Please do not send students to this meeting in order to fulfill class assignments or extra credit.  The broader community hosts Open AA meetings, which are appropriate for this purpose.  A list of area AA Meetings is available at:

The Oshkosh "Campus Friends of Bill W." are now meeting at 8 pm every Wednesday.  The meeting is located in the basement of Four Square Church, 454 Church Avenue, Oshkosh, WI.

The Alcoholics Anonymous in Southern Wisconsin website provides the telephone numbers and addresses of the four local central offices and one intergroup located in southern Wisconsin. These offices and intergroups provide such services as: receiving, arranging, and following up on calls from individuals and/or family members regarding A.A. and A.A. meetings; publishing local A.A. meeting lists; and ordering, selling, and distributing A.A. Conference approved literature.

Local listing of Alcholic Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings is located on the District 02 A.A. website.


Winnebago County Al-Anon Meetings in Oshkosh, WI

The purpose of Al-Anon is to help families and friends of alcoholics recover from the effects of living with the problem drinking of a relative or friend. Similarly, Alateen is the recovery program for young people. Alateen groups are sponsored by Al-Anon members.

Our program of recovery is adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous and is based upon the Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions, and Twelve Concepts of Service.

The only requirement for membership is that there be a problem of alcoholism in a relative or friend.

by sebenl99 — last modified Apr 03, 2013 01:01 PM

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