Alcohol and Substance Abuse

Alcohol is a popular pass time of many college students across the country. Unfortunately, irresponsible drinking can lead to short- and long-term consequences on these students lives. Alcohol consumption can increase the risk of car accidents, injuries, aggressive behavior, legal difficulties, unplanned sexual activity, and premature death. Alcohol-related vehicle accidents are one of the leading causes of death for individuals between age 15 and 24 in the United States. Heavy drinking disrupts sleep and appetite, affects concentration and class attendance, and might lead to poor grades and academic failures. A student who drinks might develop anxiety disorder or depression due his/her substance abuse, have financial difficulties, and loss of relationships. According to the reports of The Harvard School of Public Health, approximately 40% of undergraduate students engage in binge drinking. (For men, binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks in a row; for women, four or more consecutive drinks.) Very few students, even the heavy binge drinkers, admit that they have a problem with alcohol. One of the characteristics of alcohol abuse/dependence is that a person denies and minimizes the effects and consequences of their drinking. The responsible use of alcohol involves understanding the physical, emotional, social and cognitive effects of alcohol, and learning to recognize the warning signs of alcohol abuse.

What alcohol does to you...

Alcohol is a central nervous depressant and slows down nervous system activity, and reduces inhibitions and self-control. A little amount of alcohol acts as a mild tranquilizer and relaxes us. Higher levels of alcohol in the blood quickly affects our behavior, our judgment, reaction time, muscle coordination and sensory perception. Heavy drinking can anesthetize the deepest levels of the brain, affect consciousness and centers for respirations, and could result in a coma or, in some instances, even in death.

Alcohol is easily soluble in both water and lipids, and distributed rapidly throughout the whole body including the brain, muscles, and fat tissue. An obese and masculine person will have a lower concentration of alcohol in the blood than a person who weighs less and drinks the same amount. The absorption of alcohol begins in a stomach lining and continues in the small intestine. If a person drinks on an empty stomach, alcohol will show in their blood in less than a minute. Women produce less of the enzyme which transforms alcohol in the gastrointestinal tract, and women can get drunk faster than men. Ninety-five percent of alcohol is metabolized in the liver to its final products of water, carbon monoxide and carbohydrates. It is very important to know that the liver can metabolize alcohol with a certain rate, which does not depend on the concentration of alcohol in the blood. For example, if you drink 12-ounces of beer, or one ounce of whiskey, or one five-ounce glass of wine in an hour, that is the amount of alcohol that the liver can metabolize in one hour. If you drink more than that, your blood concentration of alcohol will get higher. Death can result if the liver is unable to metabolize the amount of alcohol ingested in a short period of time.

Blood Alcohol Concentration

0.02 feeling of warmth and relaxation

0.04-0.06 person is talkative, judgment and coordination are somewhat impaired (less able to make rational decisions about their capabilities; for example driving, although the driver's ability is impaired)

0.08 definite impairment of muscle coordination and driving skills (level of intoxication in many states)

0.10 legally drunk in most states, balance and movement are impaired. (To reach that level you need to drink about six ounces of hard liquor or six beers in a short period of time.)

0.20-0.29 lethargy, incoherent speech, vomiting

0.30 coma

0.40 and above in most people causes death

In some states, any detectable level of alcohol in a teenage driver might cause the loss of driving privileges.

Alcohol abuse/dependence

There are specific signs that a drinker may have an alcohol abuse problem and may become addicted to alcohol, and these signs are similar for other addictions. A person who abuses alcohol drinks despite the harmful consequences that alcohol has on work, school, relationships, and legal involvements. The signs of addiction to alcohol are tolerance, withdrawal and cravings for alcohol. A person who becomes tolerant to the effects of alcohol needs to drink more to achieve the same effect. Withdrawal is characterized by specific symptoms due to cessation or reduction of heavy and prolonged substance use. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal might include sweating and increased pulse-rate, hand tremors, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, anxiety, psychomotor agitation, transient hallucinations and grand mal seizures. In some cases, alcohol withdrawal might be life threatening and require medical attention. A person addicted to alcohol may spend a majority of their time trying to obtain the substance, and may give up other life activities ( social, recreational, etc).

Extended and heavy use of alcohol has long term consequences on a person's health. Alcohol affects the whole body and might lead to development of cardiomyopathia, pancreatitis, fatty liver, alcoholic cirrhosis, nutritional deficiencies, and neurologic complications such as loss of memory in the form of blackouts and dementia. Blackouts are alcohol-induced transient amnesia that are usually early indicators of the development of alcoholism. Heavy drinking increases the risk for infectious diseases and cancer, and induce development of depression and anxiety disorders.

Questions that you might ask yourself for self-evaluation -

  • Do you drink to relax?
  • Do you drink to cope with frustration, anger, sadness and other unpleasant emotions?
  • Do you drink to feel more comfortable with others socially?
  • Are you in financial difficulty as a result of you drinking?
  • Do you drink alone?
  • Does your drinking affect your academic performance and class attendance?
  • Do you have hangovers in the morning?
  • Do you drive after using alcohol?
  • Does alcohol affect you personal relationships?
  • Have you had injuries, accidents, or aggressive behaviors related to alcohol?
  • Have you ever needed a morning drink in order to function?
  • Do you feel guilty about your drinking?
  • Have you ever felt annoyed by criticism of others about your drinking?
  • Do you feel you need to cut down on your drinking?
  • Have you noticed signs of tolerance to alcohol; that you need to drink more to achieve the same effect?
  • Have you ever had a blackout or loss of memory as a result of your drinking?
  • Have you ever had legal troubles related to your drinking (DUI's, public drunkenness, etc.)

How can you get help?

Inappropriate use of alcohol does not mean that a person is an alcoholic. With help from a mental health professional or a substance abuse counselor, you might evaluate your drinking/substance abuse and get the help you need. You may contact the following numbers:


(256) 782-5475


See Counseling Services for off-campus referrals.

Courtesy of Mississippi State University