College and Alcohol Don’t Have to Go Together

Have you ever seen a movie about life on a college campus?

Are there any that don’t portray those years as one long, alcohol-filled party?

Sure, movies don’t necessarily reflect reality.  But the truth remains that there is a lot of alcohol consumed on college campuses.  According to the National Institutes of Health, 4 out of 5 college students drink alcohol and about half admit to binge-drinking.  The statistics don’t stop there.  Check these out:

 

  • Death: 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries.

  • Assault: More than 690,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.

  • Sexual Abuse: More than 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

  • Academic Problems: About 25 percent of college students report academic consequences of their drinking including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall.

Clearly alcohol consumption on college campuses is a big deal.  But, universities are doing something about it.  The University of Colorado (my alma mater!) recently announced a sober living option for students in recovery who wish to live with other students abstaining from alcohol and drugs.  Check it out:

University of Colorado Collegiate Recovery Center

University of Colorado Collegiate Recovery Center

When I did a quick search for other universities and colleges in my area, I found that almost all offered some sort of substance abuse treatment program; typically through their counseling center.  If you or someone you know is a college student and struggling with substance use – it’s important to know there are options – and those options appear to be growing.

For more information about how much alcohol is too much, read more.

National Institutes of Health

 

 

Grieving Cory Monteith and Coming Clean About Addiction

It has taken me the 13 days since Cory Monteith’s death to write this post.  And I am still not sure what to say.

Regular Dr. Stephanie readers know that I am a Gleek. I have often written about the show’s messages about mental health and diversity. More than anything I simply love the characters and the music.

So, like many others around the world I was heartbroken to hear about Cory Monteith’s death of what turns out was a mixture of heroine and alcohol.

What can I say, and what can we learn from this extremely sad event?

  • Life is short
  • The death of a friend, a lover, a co-worker and even a TV idol can be tremendously painful
  • Substance abuse can happen to anyone, any family and in any circle of friends

Perhaps it is this last bit that can be the most shocking: anyone – no matter how rich, popular, talented, loved or good looking – can fall prey to substance abuse and addiction.  Addiction knows no bounds, and it is one heck of a liar; making it tough for even the closest of friends to spot its presence. Most of us know that sheer force of will can’t stop an addict from using, but we do know that support of friends and family can help make the path to sobriety a bit less arduous.

If you have a friend or family member who you believe is struggling with addiction, or has come to you for help check out the resources below:

RIP Cory Monteith.

 

 

 

 

Do I Drink Too Much?

After reading this post on CNN’s health blog, The Chart, I felt like it was time to write a post about alcohol use.  Alcohol is all around us – print ads, part of TV shows (Mad Men, anyone?), movies.  Not only that, but booze is part of most social events, and liquor stores are on every corner.  It can be easy to look past problematic alcohol consumption and dub it “normal” or “fun.”  And as The Chart’s article points out, it can be easy for even medical professionals to overlook folks with problematic drinking behavior. Screen shot 2013-01-17 at 8.12.04 PM

The CDC lists alcohol consumption as the third-leading cause of preventable death in the United States. A couple of other startling notes by the CDC:

  • On average, for each death due to alcohol, an individual’s life is cut short by 30 years.
  • 79,000 deaths per year are tied to the misuse of alcohol
  • Excessive alcohol use costs the United States about $185 billion each year in health care and criminal justice expenses, as well as lost productivity.

So, how do we know if we are drinking too much?  What makes someone an alcoholic?

The official criteria for alcohol abuse (in the DSM-IV) include things like:

  • Trouble fulfilling your obligations (ignoring kids, missing work deadlines, not showing up for/cancelling appointments or dates)
  • Using alcohol in situations that are hazardous (driving, operating machines)
  • Trouble getting along with others (fighting with partner/kids/parents about drinking too much)
  • Legal problems related to drinking too much (DUI’s, etc)

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism describes heavy or risky drinking as more than 14 drinks a week for men and more than seven a week for women. When it comes to daily consumption, five or more drinks for men and four or more for women is considered excessive.

Do you think you might have an issue with alcohol? Ready to do something about it? Try SAMHSA’s treatment service locatorAlcoholics Anonymous is another good option.  You may also want to look at your insurance company’s list of behavioral health providers.  Churches, employee assistance programs, and community centers may also have resources to help.  Effective, low-cost and/or free treatment is available in most areas of the country.  For more information about support and treatment for issues involving alcohol, click here.

Teen Depression and Glee

Photo by: Glee on Fox

Yippee! Yahoo! Hooray! Glee is back for Season 3! And now that I have done my “research” for this post by watching the episode several times, I am ready to write something about the season premiere.

While I enjoyed the song selection, the number featuring Blaine, and the look of the purple pianos in last week’s episode, what really got me was the transformation of Quinn’s character.  It’s not just that I have a fondness for pink hair (I really do!), but I was both relieved and energized to see the writers doing something different with her character.  In case you don’t remember, Quinn has been through a lot in 2 years: she got pregnant, was kicked out of her house, gave her baby up for adoption, and had her heart broken by longtime boyfriend, Finn.  It was also revealed that she had a childhood history of weight problems and had plastic surgery as a youngster.  Finally, in this episode Quinn is appearing to deal with these events as many of us would: with psychological and emotional turmoil.

We have yet to learn if Quinn is actually depressed (dying one’s hair isn’t necessarily a sign of depression), but here are some things we can look out for as the season progresses to help us know for sure.  These are also good warning signs for the real teens in your life:

Change in interests.  Kids that used to love glee club, soccer, or chess may no longer be interested/find pleasure in these things.  It’s normal for kids’ interests to change over time, it’s concerning when the change is drastic and sudden.

Isolation.  Is your child spending more and more time alone in their room?  Is he turning down invitations from friends, or have the invitations stopped altogether? It’s time to step in.

Poor confidence.  Unfortunately, adolescence does a number on most kids’ confidence levels.  However, if your child seems to be suffering from particularly low self esteem, such that it makes it tough for them to do things (socialize, complete school work, try new things), it might be a warning sign.

Substance use. Many of us equate experimentation with alcohol and tobacco with the teen years.  However, if your child is using substances regularly (like once a week), it could be a sign that they are struggling with their mood and looking for ways to cope.

Changes in eating or sleeping.  Eating and sleeping too much or too little can be a warning sign that something has changed in your child’s psychological health.  Sleeping late one morning isn’t a big deal, not being able to get out of bed for 2 or 3 days is.

Irritability.  None of us are pleasant all the time, and it is a teen’s job to question adults’ decisions and figure out boundaries.  However, if your teen has recently become unusually irritable or angry, lashes out verbally or physically, or is unable to enjoy people and activities she used to because of the irritability, this could be a warning sign of depression.

Thoughts of harm.  If your teen even hints at a thought of wanting to harm themselves, or if you find any blogs/posts/tweets/updates suggesting a desire to die, stop living, or “end things” it is time to take action immediately.  It is better to be safe in these situations, so if you suspect your child is having suicidal thoughts of any kind, take them to the emergency room right away.

 

Alcohol: How Much is Too Much?

Alcohol is everywhere.  People compare drinking stories, advertisements for liquor are all over TV, and bars abound in almost every town (there is even one next door to my office!).  With the prevalence of alcohol and alcohol-related activities in our society, it can be hard to know when one’s alcohol use has gone from fun and recreational to dangerous and addictive.  Here are some warning signs that one’s alcohol use has crossed over into unhealthy territory:

“Whoa. I didn’t mean to have that much.”  People with alcohol problems may find themselves drinking more than they intended on a regular basis.  What starts out as a trip to the bar with the plan to have “just one,” turns into a whole night’s worth of drinking.  This might happen with greater and greater frequency.

“I’m going to quit tomorrow.  Just like I did last week.”  People with an addiction or dependence on alcohol may make deals with themselves, (“I’m going to quite tomorrow”) that they then find hard to keep.  A desire to stop drinking paired with several unsuccessful attempts to do so is a sign of problemed use.

“I just need to grab something across town.”  People who have problems with alcohol will often spend quite a bit of time obtaining it.  For example, they might have a circuit of liquor stores in which they buy the booze.  They may also be adept at telling stories about why they were late to the birthday party (the traffic was terrible, there was an accident, I had to run in to work) rather than admitting they stopped at the bar beforehand.

“I used to love to play tennis.”  Alcoholism is a time consuming pursuit and doesn’t leave much time for other hobbies.  People with drinking problems will often give up previously fun activities in order to spend time drinking.

“I know it’s causing problems, but I just can’t give it up.”  People who use alcohol in unhealthy ways often recognize the detrimental effects of their drinking.  It may be causing them physical, emotional, or psychological harm, but even that knowledge doesn’t help them put the bottle down.

For more information on alcoholism, check out the APA Help Center.

For more information on alcohol treatment, go to Alcoholics Anonymous.