How to cope with alcoholism as a student
Coping with alcoholism as a student can seem impossible especially if you have no one to support you. Peep pressure to keep drinking makes it also hard to even consider rehabilitation.
It’s as if the invisible force tugging us to the bottom of oblivion is a demon. A demon that will swallow us whole. For a lot of us, that demon began at the bottom of a bottle. Or a pint of beer.
If that demon has a hold of you, then you are here to understand it better. And maybe understand yourself better.
Let’s dig a bit deeper.
Why did you start drinking?
Everybody’s doing it, and I’d look weird if I don’t try it. It feels good.
It made me feel better when I was down. It was an experiment. It changed the way I thought.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with these reasons, right? So why did drinking make you feel so bad?
Because you became an addict.
Because it got a hold of you because instead of you being the one in control, it controlled you.
This is what we are talking about when we use the word “compulsion”.
You see, it’s not about self-control, or discipline anymore.
It’s about being out-of-control—that’s great when you’re having fun, but when you are out-of-control and you are hurting the ones you love, and worse, not giving a damn about hurting the ones you love, you are in such a mess.
Understatement of the year.
Perhaps I can say it better.
You are in hell.
Your personal hell.
And who’s gonna save you then?
We’re going to introduce you to Emily Smith. She’s a child of addicts.
Instead of a normal family, she grew up with parents who were addicts and grandparents who were addicts. If you have a problem drinking, chances are, your parents had problems drinking too.
You had a 50% chance of becoming addicted to alcohol the moment you were conceived. In the womb, growing as a foetus, you were already predisposed to a life of addiction.
Not “An Alcoholic” but “Addicted To Alcohol”
Why do we say “alcohol-addicted” instead of “alcoholic”? Because based on neuroscience, drinking a certain amount of alcohol for a certain amount of time changes how your brain behaves.
The chemicals become imbalanced and you become addicted. Here’s the difference between an alcohol addicted brain versus a normal brain.
If you were born with the genes that predisposed you to addiction, you only need a little bit less of the drink than “normal” people to convert your normal brain to an addicted brain. Your genes are partially to blame, like in Emily’s case.
But genetic inheritance is only one part of the story.
Where you grew up, who you grew up with, and how your life came to give us the whole reason why you’re compelled to drink and drink alcohol.
Compelled to drink and drink even if it only brings you destruction.
Why can’t I stop?
The combination of genetics predisposing you to alcohol addiction and being surrounded by people who drink, and who see it as a normal thing to do strongly push you towards the direction of alcohol addiction.
In addition, when you drink heavily, changes happen in your brain. Here is a video if you are interested to know more about the topic.
Essentially, when you drink a lot, the dopamine, serotonin, GABA, and Glutamate pathways are affected. These neural pathways are your reward systems.
They get overstimulated with the presence of too much alcohol. When you take the alcohol away, these pathways malfunction.
Used to being overstimulated, they cannot manage without the drug. They will need time to go back to the level they were functioning before they got overstimulated.
The good thing about having a young brain is that your brain still has a chance to repair the damage.
The bad thing about drinking before you reach your 20’s is that the experts say you can get addicted easier than when you start drinking as an older person.
- So is your case that bad?
- Are you really addicted?
If you question yourself, check out:
Serious Signs That You Have A Problem With Alcohol
You drink more alcohol than you really want, and for a longer time than you really want.
You spend a lot of time thinking, buying, hiding, and drinking alcohol.
You crave it.
You do alcohol binges.
You seem to be angry or depressed all the time.
You crave alcohol even if you miss school for it. Even if you miss a date for it. Even if you have to avoid your family for it.
You slowly stop going out with friends, your family, and other people, period. (Except for the times when you have to buy alcohol and you need to pay the shopkeeper).
You blackout when you drink too much, sometimes.
Your grades suck now.
You have sex with people you shouldn’t have sex with, or, you have sex without protection, or, you have sex even when you did not have sex before all this drinking began.
If you stop, you feel really bad. You don’t think straight at all, and sometimes you get the shakes.
The signs of alcohol dependence are different for young people than from adults. Experts have identified three stages and these are:
At this stage, you drink too much and longer than you intend to drink. You may feel out-of-control of your drinking.
At this stage, your out-of-control feeling gets worse. Other people are also noticing that you have changed. You could start to have problems in school, or you could stop socialising. Usually, at this stage, people around you get worried about you. You also feel sick. There’s a sense that drinking is what makes you feel sick, which leads you to…
You know you have a problem and you try to quit drinking. But it seems like your body is not cooperating. When you go cold turkey, withdrawal symptoms show up.
You only feel good when you drink.
When you don’t drink, you experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, stomach upsets, tremors, and even hallucinations (seeing things that aren’t there).
Basically, at stage three, you are in such a big mess!
How do you ask for help?
This is the hardest part. You don’t want to admit it, and you don’t want to ask for help.
To tell someone about it means you will have to expose your weakness.
Then you will have to depend on them and listen to them.
But if you don’t ask for help, you’re screwed.
So what do you do?
You can keep on going around and around in this circle. Until something forces you to ask for help, or your secret gets exposed.
We think it’s better if you ask for help in your own terms rather than be in an uncomfortable situation where people are forced to know that you have a problem. And you need their help.
At least if it was in your terms you have control of how to say it, when to say it and how much to say.
In line with this, here are tips on how to get you started:
Talk to an adult you trust at home – it does not necessarily mean your mum or dad. It could be an aunt or your grandparent. The important thing is you trust this person, and you feel safe with this person
Talk to an adult you trust in school – some schools have school counsellors, and they can help. If you trust your Form Teacher, s/he can help too. Or just look for a teacher you trust.
Talk to a friend you trust. This person should be someone who looks after your wellbeing. Aim for someone slightly mature. (Not in age, in attitude.)
Youtube and Google will only get you so far, but helplines are okay too. Search engines and videos can teach you a lot of things about sobriety and sober living. They can be a way to trigger your curiosity and get you to a better place. In fact, check this video out:
Sobriety versus Cutting Back
There are generally two camps when it comes to recovery from alcohol addiction.
The first group is what we call “The Sobriety Group”, and the second group is called “Harm Reduction”.
Recovery groups that use the 12 steps, SMART recovery and AA are examples of groups that use sobriety as a way out from Alcohol Addiction. Drinkware and Moderation Management are examples of organisations that belong to the Harm Management Approach.
What will work for you depends on you as an individual. The recovery process in a unique and personal process—methods that work for a friend you know may not be effective for you.
Generally, though, the more addicted you are to alcohol, the more you are encouraged to cut it out of your life completely. (To be totally sober.)
Some people are very sensitive to alcohol in their system.
They can stay sober and not drink, but once they start drinking again, they can’t seem to stop. They can’t have “just a little”.
If they do, they can go back to being addicts again. You will not know which type of person you are until you begin the recovery process.
It’s scary, isn’t it?
You may not have the courage to stop drinking totally. You can start with moderation or cutting back.
If this is how you want to do it, here are some tips to cut down on alcohol:
- Know how much you are drinking – use your smartphone and record how much you drink in a week
- Cut back little by little – set your own goal. How much can you really cut back?
- Ask your parents not to keep alcohol in the house.
- Pace your drinking by alternating alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks
- Order low alcohol drinks or alcohol-free drinks
- Have an accountability partner or a moderation partner (see below)
The last step we suggest is having an accountability partner to help you with your drinking problem.
Who is this person and how does it work?
An Accountability Partner is basically someone you trust and who is going to help you stay focused on an agreed-upon set of goals.
The use of accountability partners first started with Life Coaching, but it’s pretty much something we can use for life’s small and big problems.
Simply put, when there’s another person checking on you, you tend to make progress. Accountability Partners have been successful in helping people lose weight, get financially stable, and more.
Things you should look out for when choosing accountability partners are:
- They see your potential, they see you for more than what you are now
- You trust them.
- They are emotionally mature
- They give lots of encouragement, even if things look bleak.
- You can be honest with them and they are honest with you.
- They are able and willing to give you feedback
- They are available and not too busy to hear you out.
What to expect if you go to rehab or detox
If you asked for help and your loved ones came up with the solution that you need professional help, you are likely to go to rehab.
It’s not as bad as it sounds.
In fact, rehab can be a place where you can stop pretending you don’t have a problem.
You can honestly be who you are, and who you are right now sucks pretty bad. There are quite a few people in the same situation you are in, and they don’t like to be judged.
They won’t be judging you either.
Here’s what’s going to happen to you if you go to rehab.
This stage is where the centre evaluates how serious your symptoms are. To do this, they need to run some medical tests. They will usually give you a questionnaire to answer.
There will also be an interview where A doctor or nurse will attend to you and you may be given the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) test.
Medically assisted detox
Within a week to ten days (depending on the results of your assessment), you will be monitored by staff while you stop using alcohol.
They can give you medicines like disulfiram and some type of benzodiazepines to cope with your withdrawal symptoms.
You should be feeling better after the alcohol detox period. The first three days are the hardest, especially if it’s your first time.
Inpatient care or outpatient care
Inpatient means you stay in the rehab facility the whole time for the next 28 days at the minimum.
During this time, you have to attend the activities that are planned out by the centre. You will be repeatedly urged to join the activities. (It’s just the way it is.)
Outpatient care means you go to the clinic in a scheduled time to see a therapist or to attend group therapy.
In rehab, there are activities organised by groups such as AA or SMART Recovery. These organisations are called “Mutual Support Groups”. The activities these groups plan are not therapy, but they can be therapeutic.
These meetings are held to link people in recovery together, so they can support each other.
It is important to know that nobody is forced to join any organisation they are not comfortable with.
You choose what organisation you want to join because it is you who is in recovery. So choose what works best for you.
A recent article by Time Magazine mentioned that younger people are less into drinking alcohol now than in the past.
In July 2019 for instance, there was a Mindfulness Drinking Festival held in London. In this event, people danced to techno beats and drank alcohol-free drinks while partying.
If you’ve ever heard of Dry January and maybe even tried it, then you are aware that people are more conscious now about their drinking habits.
There is even a belief that if, for instance, alcohol was a newly invented product, it wouldn’t get past the Health Ministry.
Alcohol is as addictive as any prescription or illegal drug. And there is social life outside drinking and partying.
In addition, there is a slow culture-change happening across our country. People are starting to wake up from their alcoholic stupor and see that life is brighter and clearer and happier sober.
Will you be one of them too?
Getting help early can prevent experiencing severe consequences of drinking or disrupting the lives of loved ones. Call our local number 01603 513 091