Are 40 Percent of College Students Alcoholics?

College students are famous for parties infused with too much alcohol as they attempt to navigate the confusing path from childhood to adulthood. Somewhere along the line, many people came to consider this behavior a right of passage that is not only acceptable during the college years but perhaps even expected. With new studies showing that the brain isn’t finished developing until between the ages of 25 to 30 and that regular overconsumption of alcohol before this period may interrupt, change, and/or cause damage to the growing nerve fibers, this attitude may start to evolve.

Another evolution in our view of heavy drinking during the university years may come next year as the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) is released. The reference used to diagnose mental illness is currently being updated and the new section on addiction is being changed dramatically. Under the new criteria, experts are estimating that approximately 40 percent of university students would now be diagnosed with alcoholism. Some say that the changes will likely artificially inflate statistics on addiction.

Confusion and Debate Over Definitions Sparked Change in Alcoholism Diagnosis

The current DSM uses the terms “abuse” and “dependence” to differentiate between different levels of misuse of alcohol. A general consensus now regards the term “abuse” as an overly judgmental description and dependence as an inappropriate definition. Scientifically speaking, dependence and addiction are not synonymous. For example, an individual may be dependent on insulin or blood pressure medication to stay healthy but that does not equate to addiction. Instead, a spectrum of mild, moderate and severe will replace the old diagnostic criteria.

Is Alcoholism Separate From Problem Drinking?

The way the diagnosis for addiction is currently set up, there is an acknowledgement that both alcohol and drugs can be problems before they are addictions, and many college drinkers seem to demonstrate this concept. Even certain 12-step programs acknowledge that some individuals with an alcohol problem are able to learn to regulate their drinking habits – those who are not able to moderate their alcohol consumption would then have addictions. However, the proposed changes would mean that anyone who has had a problem caused by alcohol would be considered an addict and treated as though they are definitively unable to control their behavior.

Some experts fear this will cause certain young people who are uneducated or inexperienced with alcohol to be labeled as alcoholics. This diagnosis implies the need for lifelong abstinence and does not address the issues for those college students merely in need of guidance and education on appropriate use of the substance.

What do you think of the proposed changes in the DSM-V on the diagnosis of drug and alcohol addiction? Do you think there are problems with alcohol that are less severe than addiction? Tell us your thoughts below.