Alcoholism at uni: spotting the signs of addiction

Published

Orla Brady
Writer

Orla Brady contemplates the potential of alcohol to become a crutch for stressed out students, and signposts some of the resources available to help combat this pervasive issue.

As a university student it is important to have a healthy balance between study, work and social life. It seems, however, that increasing numbers of students are turning to alcohol in order to combat the stress they find themselves experiencing as a result of their studies.
This presents the question of what constitutes a typical “social life” during the university period. For many, a cornerstone of their social life entails meeting friends in the pub or gathering in a flat for drinks in the evening and then going out to one of the numerous club nights on offer in Glasgow. This seemingly inoffensive and normal activity can unfortunately lead to some students losing sight of the line between drinking in moderation and binge drinking on a regular basis, and it’s not difficult to see how this happens. Many of the bars and clubs frequented by students in Glasgow advertise extremely cheap alcohol promotions such as £1.50 drinks as well as cocktail offers and deals on shots.
While these affordable drinks promos may seem like a godsend to the average skint student, they encourages a culture of regular binge drinking on nights out. However, recent University of Glasgow graduate Emma thinks that the crux of the problem lies with the level of alcohol consumption at “pre-drinks”, during which people bring their own alcohol in order to get drunk as quickly as possible before heading out to the club, usually to save money: “I’m not really convinced that alcohol deals make much of a difference. During my year abroad in Sweden the drinks were much more expensive than they are in Glasgow but people still drank the same amount as they would do here. It just encourages more pre-drinking.” Therefore, the problem may not be the price of the alcohol on offer in bars and clubs but the British culture of pre-drinking, where measures are not controlled and choice not restricted by selected drinks promotions.
Halls of residence are stereotypically known as the drinking hubs of university, where residents often throw wild parties or gather together for a long evening of pre-drinks. Current University of Glasgow student Lucie, however, believes that this can be very dangerous for young, impressionable first years who are living away from home for the first time: “In certain halls, people really do get drunk almost daily. I think this can be damaging for young, first year students who have never moved out before and have just moved to a new city. Getting drunk can seem like the easiest way to make pals but it can also get out of control quite quickly.”
People often use alcohol in order to increase their confidence and social skills, therefore, when students first arrive at university it can quickly become a crutch that aids them in making friends and being more outgoing. If relied upon too heavily, however, alcohol can become a distraction from studies or, more seriously, an addiction.
Alcohol addiction does not always take the form of the clichéd images of bottles of vodka hidden under a bed, or getting up and drinking first thing in the morning, or disguising alcohol in juice bottles. In fact, someone with an alcohol problem may not necessarily drink everyday or stock large amounts of alcohol in their house. There are more subtle ways that this illness can manifest itself, and it is important to be able to identify these more inconspicuous behaviours so that we can recognise when a friend is suffering.
Perhaps one of your friends is consistently recognised as the one who gets the drunkest on nights out, so much so that there have been occasions where they have put themselves or others in danger. Although many people will shake this off the next day as drunken stupidity, if a friend is not learning from their mistakes and continues to drink to the same extent every time they go out this could signal that they are having problems recognising their limits, or could perhaps be symptomatic of more serious mental distress.
Many young people are unaware of how addictive alcohol can be, as well as its side effects, which include anxiety, paranoia and depression. If you recognise that a friend has become increasingly anxious, or if you are aware that they are drinking large amounts of alcohol alone on a frequent basis after a busy day at university or a difficult hand-in or exam, then this also may imply that they are developing an alcohol dependency and using alcohol to combat stress of their daily life. These warning signs are crucial to be aware of if you believe a friend, or a loved one, is abusing alcohol and may be in need of help, even if they do not recognise it themselves.

Furthermore, if you find that some of these warning signs apply to you, or recognise that when you are drinking you frequently suffer from blackouts or engage in reckless behaviour, it may be time to re-evaluate your alcohol consumption by recognising your own limits and cutting down your alcohol intake. It may be useful to ask a close friend or family member if they have ever had any concerns over your behaviour whilst under the influence or any worries about your overall alcohol intake. This may help you to understand how to control this and will make others aware that you need support in order to make this lifestyle change. It may result in friends offering to do things together that don’t involve alcohol or spending time with you following a stressful day or event to ensure you are not turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism.
There are many helplines and services that you can use or recommend to a friend or loved one that you may be concerned about. University counselling services or GP support may be a positive place to start. They are equipped to point people in the right direction with regards to seeking help with alcohol dependency issues. Furthermore, there are numerous helplines and online resources that offer advice on how to spot if you, or a friend, are suffering from alcohol dependency and what to do about it. All of these are very useful in combating alcohol abuse, however, the first, and potentially most difficult, step is recognising that alcohol is becoming a destructive force in your life and is causing significant problems which must be addressed.

Addaction – https://www.addaction.org.uk
UK Smart Recovery – https://www.smartrecovery.org.uk
Alcoholics Anonymous – https://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk 0800 9177 650
Drinkaware – https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/
NHS Online – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alcohol-misuse/