Alcohol Abuse

Please Read UND Alcohol Expectations by President Charles Kupchella.

Most UND students who choose to use alcohol do so in moderation. In a 1998 survey conducted by the Office of Substance Abuse Prevention, 68% of students reported that they drank 0-4 drinks when they partied. Many college students choose not to drink at all, in spite of wide-spread beliefs to the contrary.

College students also use various protective behaviors to avoid losing control including: alternating alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic drinks, counting drinks, enjoying food with alcohol, using the buddy system, and drinking lots of water to lessen dehydration.

Alcohol causes dehydration. Taking alcohol with other drugs that dehydrate (like speed and ecstasy) is potentially very risky. Drinking alcohol will dry out tissues of the body and brain, which can result in mental conditions such as memory loss when used in large doses. Hangover symptoms can be lessened or avoided by consuming lots of water. Of course, the simplest way to prevent a hangover is to avoid excess alcohol use in the first place.

Alcohol is a depressant drug--it slows down the action of the central nervous system. Common experiences include loss of inhibitions, relaxation, talkativeness, and sociability. Higher doses can lead to loss of control (slurred speech, blurred vision, and wobbly legs) and even loss of consciousness.

Alcohol causes the body to lose heat to the environment--the blood vessels dilate, bringing them closer to the surface of the skin. Alcohol should never be given to someone to 'warm them up' (it will make them feel warmer, but their body will actually cool down). Alcohol will also reduce a person's sensitivity to pain. It's possible to suffer injuries and not realize it until the alcohol wears off--burns, cuts, bruises, and even frostbite can go unnoticed.

Combining alcohol with many prescription and non-prescription medications can result in serious side effects, including death. Although most people are aware of the dangers of mixing alcohol with other depressants like tranquilizers, many people are not yet aware of the dangers of mixing alcohol and Tylenol (acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol) as the cause of sudden liver failure, in spite of recent media reports of deaths caused by their interaction. Alternative painkillers are not entirely free of danger either. Aspirin or Ibuprofen (such as Advil and Motrin) can cause stomach bleeding if taken in large doses or with 3 or more alcoholic drinks per day.

Women become more intoxicated than men after drinking the same amount of alcohol, even when differences in body weight are taken into account. This is because women's bodies have proportionately less water than men's bodies. Because alcohol mixes with body water, a given amount of alcohol becomes more highly concentrated in a woman's body than in a man's. That is why the recommended drinking limit for women is lower than for men. In addition, chronic alcohol abuse takes a heavier physical toll on women than on men. Alcohol dependence and related medical problems, such as brain and liver damage, progress more rapidly in women than in men.
Drinking during pregnancy can have a number of harmful effects on the newborn, ranging from mental retardation, organ abnormalities, and hyperactivity to learning and behavioral problems. Moreover, many of these disorders last into adulthood. While we don't yet know exactly how much alcohol is required to cause these problems, we do know that they are 100-percent preventable if a woman does not drink at all during pregnancy. Therefore, for women who are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant, the safest course is to abstain from alcohol.

Several studies have reported that moderate drinkers--those who have one or two drinks per day--are less likely to develop heart disease than people who do not drink any alcohol or who drink larger amounts. Small amounts of alcohol may help protect against coronary heart disease by raising levels of "good" HDL cholesterol and by reducing the risk of blood clots in the coronary arteries. If you are a non-drinker, you should not start drinking only to benefit your heart. Protection against coronary heart disease may be obtained through regular physical activity and a low-fat diet. And if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, have been diagnosed as alcoholic, or have any medical condition that could make alcohol use harmful, you should not drink. Even for those who can drink safely and choose to do so, moderation is the key. Heavy drinking can actually increase the risk of heart failure, stroke, and high blood pressure, as well as cause many other medical problems, such as liver cirrhosis.

Choosing to avoid alcohol abuse can prevent a myriad of problems including:

  • Decreased academic performance
  • Memory loss
  • Impaired judgment
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Increased risk of drinking and driving
  • Increased risk of violence and unwanted sexual problems
  • Sexual dysfunction

Long-term abuse of alcohol is known to cause many physical illnesses including liver damage, stomach cancer, and heart disease.

Alcoholism, also known as "alcohol dependence," is a chronic, often progressive disease. The symptoms of alcoholism include alcohol craving and continued drinking despite repeated alcohol-related problems, such as losing a job or getting into trouble with the law. It includes four symptoms:

  • Craving -- A strong need, or compulsion, to drink.
  • Impaired control -- The inability to limit one's drinking on any given occasion.
  • Physical dependence -- Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking.
  • Tolerance -- The need for increasing amounts of alcohol in order to feel its effects.

Alcoholism tends to run in families, and genetic factors partially explain this pattern. Currently, researchers are on the way to finding the genes that influence vulnerability to alcoholism. Risk, however, is not destiny. A child of an alcoholic parent will not automatically develop alcoholism. A person with no family history of alcoholism can become alcohol dependent. A person's environment, such as the influence of friends, stress levels, and the ease of obtaining alcohol, may also influence drinking and the development of alcoholism. Still other factors, such as social support, may help to protect even high-risk people from alcohol problems.

Alcoholism is a treatable disease, and medication is available to help prevent relapse, but a cure has not yet been found. This means that even if an alcoholic has been sober for a long time and has regained health, he or she may relapse and must continue to avoid all alcoholic beverages.

Signs of alcohol abuse:

  • Drinking to get drunk
  • Personality changes
  • High tolerance level
  • Preoccupation with drinking
  • Alcohol-related social problems
  • Loss of memory
  • Denying or hiding drinking

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning:

  • Person is unconscious or semi-conscious and cannot be awakened.
  • Cold, clammy, pale, or bluish skin.
  • Check to see if breathing is slow, less than eight times per minute, or irregular, with ten seconds or more between breaths.
  • Vomiting while "sleeping" or passing out, and not waking up after vomiting.

In case of acute alcohol intoxication:

  • Get help immediately.
  • Do not leave the person alone. Turn the victim on his/her side to prevent choking in case of vomiting.
  • Always be "better safe than sorry" if you are not sure what to do.

Resource links:

v National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Frequently Asked Questions. (
v The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc., Alcoholism and Alcohol-Related Problems. (
v Mercer University, Student Health Center. Alcohol Use. (
v Purdue University. Alcohol, Tobacco & Other Drugs Links. (
v University of Florida, Student Health Care Center. Campus Alcohol and Drug Resource Center. (
v Higher Education Center: Social Norms and Social Marketing. (
v Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). (

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