Many assume college is too young for someone to develop an addiction, but emerging adulthood, from ages 18 to 25 is the highest risk period for developing a substance use disorder. It’s a time of increased freedom and major life changes, such as leaving home, getting a job, or starting college. One study found that over 42 percent of college students engaged in episodic heavy drinking over the course of a year compared to just over 38 percent of their non-college peers. This difference is mainly attributed to the drinking culture that has become entrenched on most US campuses. Drinking in college is so common, it might be difficult to tell when it has become a problem for any particular individual. Regular drinking on campus can easily be dismissed as a normal part of college life but the following are signs that drinking may have become a problem.


Dropping grades

Falling grades is one of the earliest signs that college drinking has become a problem. A number of studies have found links between increased drinking and poor academic performance. One study from Penn State surveyed more than 28,000 students who sought counseling at 66 colleges and universities. Based on 15,000 relevant responses, the researchers found that there was a strong inverse correlation between drinking and grades. Students who reported they had not engaged in binge drinking within the past two weeks had an average GPA of 3.19. Students who reported one episode of binge drinking in the past two weeks fared a little worse with an average GPA of 3.11. However, the more episodes of binge drinking students reported, the worse their GPAs got. Students who reported three to five incidents of binge drinking had an average GPA of 3.04 and students who reported 10 or more episodes of binge drinking had an average GPA of 2.95.

There are a number of reasons for this. One is that alcohol actually makes it harder to learn. It impairs your concentration and memory. Alcohol also disrupts sleep, especially deep, restorative sleep and REM sleep, when your brain consolidates new knowledge and skills. For some students, heavy drinking and poor grades may both be symptoms of other problems, such as mental health issues or personal problems. Finally, excessive drinking can take up time that could better be used for studying or going to class.


Skipping class

Around 25 of percent of college students report academic problems caused by drinking. These include missing class, falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams and papers, and, as noted above, lower grades. Skipping class is a bad sign for several reasons. First, it contributes to poorer academic performance, since you miss out on valuable information. Second, and perhaps more worryingly, class is why you’re in college. College is a huge investment and if you’re drinking instead of going to class, it indicates a lack of priorities. One of the major signs of addiction is when you prioritize substance use over more important things. So if you’re drinking instead of going to class, it may indicate alcohol has become your top priority.

Missing class because of drinking also indicates you may be drinking both too heavily and too frequently. Many college students have already arranged their schedules so the weekend starts on Thursday afternoon. If you’re missing class to drink or because of a hangover when you already have a three-day weekend, it probably indicates you’re drinking quite a bit during the week as well.


Disciplinary trouble

Another indication that drinking has become a problem is if you get into disciplinary trouble with the school or legal trouble. Every year, there are about 696,000 alcohol-related assaults involving college students and about 97,000 sexual assaults. More than 1,800 college students die from alcohol-related injuries, mostly from drunk driving, and many more are injured or receive DUIs. If you get into trouble either with the law, the university, or both because of something you did while drinking, it’s unlikely it was just a fluke. It more than likely indicates a dangerous pattern of behavior that needs to be addressed right away.



More than 1,800 college students die every year from alcohol-related accidents and many times that number are injured. If you have cuts, bruises, or other injuries and you aren’t sure where they came from or you know they happened because you were drunk, it’s a sign you might have a problem. Although you may think these injuries are a one-off, they may fit a broader pattern of bad things happening when you drink. 


Needing alcohol to relax

College can be extremely stressful and many students have a work-hard-play-hard attitude toward drinking. After a hard week of studying, they want to relax with some drinks. However, if you get to the point where you need to drink to relax, you may have a problem. If you drink enough, your body develops a tolerance and needs alcohol just to feel normal. Without alcohol, you may feel irritable, tense, agitated, or shaky. If you need a drink or two to calm your nerves and unwind at the end of the week, it may be a sign of dependence. 


Other signs of addiction

In addition to prioritizing drinking over class and studying, getting into disciplinary or legal trouble, developing dependence, and generally persisting in drinking despite negative consequences, watch out for other signs of addiction. These include thinking about or craving alcohol when you’re not drinking, setting aside time specifically to drink, lying about drinking, borrowing or stealing money to buy alcohol, or trying to quit but being unable to.

If you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction, Hired Power and our team of dynamic, experienced recovery professionals are here to guide you every step of the way. We offer many services, including helping you choose the best treatment program and transitional services, including interventions, sober monitoring, and personal recovery assistants. Call us today for information on our recovery services: 800.910.9299.