Chemical Dependency

Contrary to popular belief, not everyone drinks in college. Also, not everyone experiments with drugs. At the same time, many people will drink moderately, or even not at all, depending on the situation. However, when drugs or alcohol become the central focus of your life, you may have a substance abuse problem.

Substance abuse problems are often associated with poor grades, legal issues, and psychological problems. If you have noticed that you are unable to control or stop your substance use, then you may be at risk for other problems in your life. The first step is awareness; the second step is getting some help.


How much do you know about alcohol and its effects?

A useful way to think about the effects of alcohol involves blood alcohol level, sometimes called blood alcohol concentration.

What exactly is blood alcohol level (BAL)?

It is the ratio of alcohol to blood in your bloodstream. It is determined by calculating the milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood. Thus, the legal limit to drive in all states is under 0.08 percent. This means that .8 of one percent of your total blood content is alcohol. Setting personal limits on BAL is a good way of forming a healthy relationship with alcohol, if you choose to drink. Learn how to do this later on this page.

If I choose to use alcohol, why should I care about blood alcohol level?

Avoiding legal problems that can greatly complicate your life is a big reason. Legal problems are costly, embarrassing, require time to follow through with court ordered activities, and may have an impact on future career choices. Avoiding causing injury to yourself and others is an even bigger reason. These are no-brainers.

Let's consider some more specific patterns relating to blood alcohol level.

Estimating BAL

Are there ways of estimating my blood alcohol level after drinking? Yes, with an emphasis on estimate. Blood alcohol levels are influenced by a person's gender, weight, speed of drinking, whether eating or not while drinking (eating slows down the absorption of alcohol), among other things. The following websites show you how to estimate your blood alcohol level:

What is tolerance?

Tolerance occurs when people need a greater amount of alcohol (higher BAL) to achieve the same effect others have with less alcohol.

Is tolerance positive or negative?

You might find yourself thinking, "Tolerance seems like it means a person can hold their liquor &mdash stay in control. Tolerance sounds good to me."

Think about the problems associated with tolerance. They include the fact that drinking is expensive. It has been estimated that college students spend in excess of $5.5 billion annually on alcohol &mdash more than on soft drinks, milk, juice, tea, coffee AND books, combined. People who develop tolerance to alcohol drink more to feel its effects. You might want to keep track of what you spend on alcohol for a 1-month period.

Furthermore, tolerance can lead to organ strain and the development of long-term health problems because of high levels of toxins in the body for extended periods. Men who drink heavily over time can experience a reduced sex drive.

People with tolerance to alcohol can appear to drink a lot and not be outwardly affected. However, the alcohol is affecting them on a physiological level. They might be asked to drive, yet have impaired judgment and motor coordination, leading all too often to tragic results.

Is tolerance reversible?

Yes, to a large extent. Brief periods of abstinence or reducing the amount you drink will do it. Students sometimes experience a reduction in tolerance when they move back home between semesters or for the summer.

Two big advantages students report when they reduce their drinking are not feeling the day-after hangovers and having more money.

How do women differ from men in their reactions to alcohol?

Does this mean men do not have to be concerned about how much they drink?

We know you know the answer to that one from what you have learned about BAL's. However, let's review some national statistics associated with college students and drinking to highlight the point (men are over-represented to some degree in all of these).

You have probably seen statistics like the above before. It is hard to allow them to sink in. It is hard to be young, getting ready for a party &mdash and stop to consider and plan how not to be one of those statistics.

How to avoid being a statistic

Look around for activities that are fun but do not involve alcohol. If you choose to drink, consider practicing risk reduction:

Alcohol and sexual assault

In reliable studies, one in four college women report being a victim of either rape or attempted rape. Seventy-five percent of the men and 55 percent of the women report having used drugs or alcohol prior to the sexual assault. The possible effects on women are well known — emotional scarring and pain, physical injury, and/or sexually transmitted diseases.

What are the effects on men? Guilt, shame, legal consequences and risk of sexually transmitted disease. Both men and women can experience negative effects on future relationships.

Drinking Problem Questionnaire

Individual drinking habits may be found on a continuum from responsible drinking through alcohol abuse to alcoholism, or physical dependence. There are many signs that may point to an alcohol problem. Drunkenness per se or solitary drinking does not necessarily indicate alcoholism. A sample of some indicators is listed below. The questionnaire will be meaningful to you only if you are honest with yourself when taking it. The important question is: Is your use of alcohol creating significant negative consequences in your life?

The above questions are adapted from "The Natural History of Alcoholism", Vallient, 1983.

If you can answer "yes" to several of these questions, your drinking is causing problems for you and professional consultation can help prevent problems from getting more intense or numerous. Some people resolve to curb their drinking and can do so for a time only to have their alcohol problems persist or reoccur. The drinking habits of alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence can become very entrenched. Alcohol misuse may damage any combination of the following areas for a student: interpersonal relationships, psychological health, academic functioning, and physical health. Withdrawal from alcohol for someone who has progressed to physical dependence may require medical involvement.

Local Sources of Help

University of Indianapolis Counseling Center (317) 788-5015

Alpha Resources, Inc.
(317) 784-3985

Fairbanks Hospital
(317) 849-8222

Drug Free Marion County

Alcoholics Anonymous Referral Service and Treatment Program 24-hour Helpline
(800) 207-1264

Alcohol: How To Take Care Of An Intoxicated Person

What to Do

Determine from the person's companions what he or she was drinking, the quantity and over what time period. Find out if other drugs or medications were taken and past history of drug abuse.

What Not to Do

See other resources on College Binge Drinking or Signs and Symptons of Addiction

Growing Up in an Alcoholic Family

According to a January 2000 research report from the NIAAA, one in every four college students grew up with a parent who abused alcohol or other drugs. That's millions of students across the country.

If you grew up with parental substance abuse the fact that you are attending college is an excellent sign that you already have many of the skills you need to succeed. Your job now is to build on these skills and reach out for support. Here are some groups that can help out find more information.

Al-Anon Family Groups
Support groups for families and friends of alcoholics

Alcoholics Anonymous
Support groups for recovering alcoholics and those who want to abstain from alcohol

American Council for Drug Education
Phoenix House

National Association for Children of Alcoholics
Information and educational materials for children of alcoholics and professionals

Drug Free Marion County

Alcohol: Talking With Someone You Care About

What Is Your Relationship To The Person?

It is important to be aware of the kind of relationship you have with the person before approaching him/her about his/her drinking. If you are not close to the person, you should encourage someone who is to speak to him/her about it. Sometimes carefully approaching the problem drinker in a small group is a good strategy. It can make it hard for the person to deny things if there is reasonable, objective group confrontation.

Selecting A Suitable Time

An appropriate time for the confrontation must be selected. Besides insuring such things as privacy, do not try to talk to the student about this when he or she is drunk. Your message will not reach him/her properly or will be forgotten.

A Straightforward Message

Explain to the student why you are talking to him/her. Be specific, unambiguous and focused upon alcohol as the primary problem. Potentially anxiety-provoking messages need to be simple and concrete in order to be understood. Describe the particular behaviors that have worried you, i.e., property damage, drunk driving, loss of memory of events while drinking etc.

"Confrontation" Does Not Equal Attack

Alcohol abuse can take on a life of its own. Life problems may or may not lead one to excessive drinking, but are certainly a consequence. However, people who abuse or are dependent on alcohol frequently feel embarrassed, weak and/or guilty about their drinking. For those reasons it is important to convey that the confrontation is about their drinking behaviors and is not an attack upon them as a person. A harsh confrontation will only alienate the person. But a failure to adequately confront the person only promotes his/her denial.

One must mix: 1) An assertive approach focused on alcohol-related problems and 2) A communication of support for and valuing of the person. It is important to reinforce the person's self-esteem. You can point out that it is hard for you to bring this up, but are doing so because you value him/her as a friend. Drinking can be a substitute for relating. Alcohol treatment is vastly more likely to be effective for someone who has some good real relationships. After confronting the person, one should neither avoid him/her nor be over solicitous.

What Reactions To Expect

The denial process is closely associated with alcohol problems. The earlier in the person's drinking history that a confrontation comes, the less denial there will be and the easier it will be for the person to change his/her drinking habits. One may need time to digest any confrontations. A response of anger by the person should not be viewed as a lack of appreciation or motivation, but of anxiety. The person may also try to change the subject by pointing out that you drink too. Remind your friend that use per se is not the issue, rather it is the problem caused by your friend's misuse of alcohol.


The purpose of the confrontation is not to set oneself up as a prosecutor or to induce guilt. The purpose is to make the person aware of the effect his/her drinking is having on others, the fact that drinking is causing pain and that he or she can do something about it.

For further information, check out Phoenix House or Addiction Center.