Getting plastered drunk is a college tradition, and who would we be without our traditions?
It is one thing to have a few beers, or even a few mornings where you wake up and don't 100% know what you did the night before. But as fun as the stereotype of the college drunkard can be, alcoholism is a real disease which does affect young students. It is not just a middle-aged problem.
Alcoholics are not just scruffy, bearded men who lay on park benches. Around 20 percent of alcoholics are high-functioning, which means they live normal lives while drinking night after night. But eventually, that drinking will catch up to them and risk destroying everything they value.
The key is to notice symptoms early and seek alcohol addiction treatment as soon as possible.
None of these warning signs alone are definite signs that a college drinker is an alcoholic. Use your judgement, and if you see more than one of these signs, it may be time to start worrying either about yourself or your friend.
1. They're not having fun.
CS Lewis observed in his famous work “The Screwtape Letters” that a man is much more likely to become a drunkard if he uses alcohol as an anodyne instead of using it “as a means of merriment among his friends when he is happy and expansive.”
This is absolutely true.
If you have a friend who does not seem to enjoy drinking, that is a concern. Maybe she gets angry and starts yelling. Maybe he starts urinating, or throwing up. Maybe she doesn't seem to be happy when she drinks.
Alcoholics are compelled to drink because their brain has become dependent on alcohol. When drinking becomes something someone does for no real reason, that is a potential warning sign.
2. Obsession with alcohol.
Remember that alcoholism is a disease.
An alcoholic can become physically dependent on alcohol, which can often lead to addiction.
An alcoholic's body and brain become used to having alcohol in its cells. When those cells feel deprived of alcohol, they react poorly. This leads to the shakes we associate with alcoholism.
So, an alcoholic "needs" alcohol, and will constantly look for opportunities to get drunk.
Take note of that. If your friend is constantly looking for the next party, or is often talking about drinking, that could be an obsession and a sign of alcoholism.
3. Blacking out.
If you drank alcohol at college, you've probably blacked out at some point.
But the fact is that blackouts are dangerous, and you may not even realize when your friend has blacked out.
As clinicians have realized, blackouts do not cause you to lose your memory of what you did; they cause you to lose your ability to memorize. And with your loss of ability to memorize comes your loss of ability to reason, which is why people who are blacked out can act abnormally.
Now, a single blackout should not be that concerning. Perhaps you can laugh it off as a bad night of drinking.
But regular, or even semi-regular blackouts are a bad sign. And while you probably know this already, people in the middle of a blackout should be monitored for their own and others' safety.
4. They smell different.
You know what I'm talking about.
It's that weird, chemical stench of alcohol, mixed with sweat and who-knows-what other bodily fluids.
That smell exists because alcohol is a type of ethanol. If there is enough alcohol in a person's bloodstream, then that ethanol smell will get in his or her mouth and come out of their pores, too.
Now, alcoholics don't like that smell any more than you do. So they may try to hide it in various ways. They may use more mouthwash, perfume or cologne, or perhaps shower a lot more.
But if you know your friend drinks a lot, and he starts smelling nicer for some reason, that could indicate that he is trying to cover up that stench of alcohol.
5. Behavioral changes.
Admittedly, this is pretty vague. There are tons of reasons why your friend could all of a sudden start acting differently.
But there are certain behaviors which are associated with alcoholic dependency.
Warning signs are a lack of attention to outside activities that don't involve drinking and general slovenliness.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence has a list of warning behaviors which could be associated with alcoholism.
The key point is not so much the behavior itself, but any sudden changes.
Even if these changes are not caused by alcoholism, they may be caused by some other mental problem such as depression. Whatever the cause, you should check into your friend's activities and try to figure out what may be affecting them.