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Alcohol Abuse and Addiction

What is alcohol abuse?

42.6 percent of college students reported being intoxicated in the last month.

Many people use alcohol to relax and unwind, typically in social settings. In fact, many people use alcohol responsibly without experiencing any problems. But sometimes alcohol and drugs are used as an ineffective way to cope with negative feelings and to avoid issues.

For some people, alcohol and drug use can begin to interfere with normal daily activities, responsibilities and commitments. For example, a person might miss an important job interview or a college class because they are hungover from a night of partying. Or they might not be able to pay an important bill because they spent too much on alcohol and partying.

People who begin to fall into these kinds of abuse patterns may progress from a few drinks a week to drinking more frequently, sometimes drinking or using drugs daily or engaging in binge drinking.

When alcohol and drugs begin to affect a person’s ability to successfully manage their lives, then they may be showing symptoms of alcohol/drug abuse.

Binge drinking is characterized by periods of abstinence or light use of alcohol or drugs followed by periods of intense and heavy use in a single session. In fact, 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by individuals 21 and under in the U.S. is in the form of binge drinking.

As a person progresses into serious abuse patterns, cravings for alcohol and drugs might begin, major responsibilities are neglected, obligations and promises are broken more frequently and legal problems are not uncommon (a first DUI, for example). Heavy use of alcohol and drugs also takes a toll on physical and mental health.

Alcohol and drug abuse can also lead to extreme levels of physical and mental impairment and blackouts.

A blackout is a serious impairment of brain functioning resulting in foggy memory or even complete loss of memory recall during a period of heavy alcohol use. There is a strong correlation between rapid ingestion of large amounts of alcohol within a short period of time and blackouts.

A blackout is essentially the brain’s response to drug-induced trauma from alcohol poisoning. For people who are addicted to alcohol, over time heavy frequent use can even cause permanent injury to the brain which affects memory and cognitive functioning.

When college students abuse alcohol and drugs and suffer impairment and blackouts, they can be extremely vulnerable to physical abuse and sexual assault.

The National Institute of Justice reports that at least half of sexual assaults among college students occur after the perpetrator, the victim or both have consumed alcohol. Though it is difficult to accurately measure because so many assaults go unreported, it is believed that 25 percent of American women have experienced sexual assault including rape, with 50 percent of those cases involving alcohol use. Men are also victims of sexual assault.

Some of the sexual assault risk factors associated with heavy alcohol and drug use include impairment in thinking, decision-making and judgment. When a person is heavily intoxicated, it is also more challenging to assess risky and unsafe situations. Being able to set clear boundaries may become difficult and when a person experiences an alcohol-induced blackout, they may not have the ability to fight back during a sexual assault or accurately recall events. In fact, perpetrators at parties or bars may target individuals who are heavily impaired or passed out in order to commit sexual assault.

The National Institute of Justice published several factors that increase sexual assault risk:

  1. The first two years of college are the highest risk years, and the first few months of school are the highest risk time of the year.  
  2. More than half of the sexual assaults took place on weekends, and more than half occurred between midnight and 6 a.m.  
  3. More than half of sexual assaults against college women took place in off-campus settings. More than half of the women who reported incapacitated sexual assault said they were at a party when the incident took place.

Students, staff and faculty who have experienced sexual harassment or sexual violence should contact the North Idaho College Title IX Coordinator for assistance immediately at (208) 769-5970 or Room 220 in the NIC Edminster Student Union Building.

What is an "alcohol use disorder"

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that an estimated 16 million people in the U.S. can be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder (AUD). To be medically diagnosed with AUD, individuals must meet certain criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Under DSM-5 anyone meeting any two of the following criteria during the same 12-month period receives a diagnosis of AUD. The severity of AUD – mild, moderate or severe – is based on the number of criteria met.

To assess whether you or a loved one may have AUD, here are some questions to ask. In the past year, have you:

  1. Had times when you ended up drinking more or longer than you intended?
  2. More than once wanted to cut down on stop drinking, or tried to, but could not?
  3. Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
  4. Experienced craving – a strong need or urge to drink?
  5. Found that drinking – or being sick from drinking – often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles or school problems?
  6. Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  7. Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you or that gave you pleasure in order to drink?
  8. More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area or having unsafe sex)?
  9. Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  10. Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  11. Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea or sickness? Or sensed things that were not there?

Resources and Getting Help

If you have any of these symptoms, your drinking may already be a cause for concern. The more symptoms you have, the more urgent the need for change. It is recommended that you consider meeting with a counselor for a more in-depth assessment of your symptoms.

The goal of counseling is to learn new healthy coping skills to better manage life. Through the course of counseling, some people even chose to completely abstain from alcohol and drug use because it interferes too much with their lives and goal accomplishment. Others find that with their new skills and lifestyle changes, they might even be able to return to responsible alcohol use.


  • NIC Confidential Online Alcohol Assessment Tool: If you want to learn more about your drinking behaviors, consider taking the Online Alcohol Assessment, which is confidential and provides personalized feedback. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to complete and provides a wealth of information about your alcohol use. The assessment is anonymous and no individual information is kept or provided to North Idaho College.
  • Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Calculator: Use this calculator to estimate just how little alcohol it takes to put you on the "wrong side of the law."
  • Drink Size Calculator: Chances are, your cup or beverage label will not tell you how much alcohol is in a standard drink, but this calculator will.
  • Alcohol Calorie Calculator: Alcohol beverages supply calories but few nutrients and may contribute to unwanted weight gain. If you need to lose weight, looking at your drinking may be a good place to start.
  • Cocktail Content Calculator: How strong is your mixed drink or cocktail? Depending on the recipe, you can have one, two, or more "standard" drinks in one cocktail or mixed drink.
  • Alcohol Spending Calculator: If you want to learn more about your drinking behaviors, consider taking the Online Alcohol Assessment, which is confidential and provides personalized feedback. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to complete and provides a wealth of information about your alcohol use. The assessment is anonymous and no individual information is kept or provided to North Idaho College.