Sunday, January 01, 2006

Stress and Alcohol: How to Avoid Two Major Pitfalls of College Life


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Stress and Alcohol: How to Avoid Two Major Pitfalls of College Life

Author: Linda Slater Dowling

Copyright 2005 Linda Slater Dowling

A lot of hard work and planning goes into choosing your college and then preparing for college life. But although your stacks of extra-long sheets, dorm-size refrigerators, photos of friends and family and textbooks for every subject imaginable can go a long way toward making your college experience a happy one, two of the most important aspects of college life cannot be bought--and are often overlooked.

Learning how to deal with the effects of stress and an abundance of alcohol is essential for every college student. Whether it's your first year or your last, the information that follows can be carried with you through college and then applied to your life beyond it.

Stress: You Can't Always Avoid it, But You Can Deal With It

You are living in a stress-filled society. In fact, stress is so widespread that the American Institute of Stress (AIS) reports that 75 to 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related illnesses.

Some stress is actually good, like the type that makes you stay alert and focused when danger could be present. Other stress, the type that occurs when you're worried about a problem for a long period of time or because you're overworked, is bad and will eventually contribute to health problems.

College students, who are simultaneously trying to juggle an academic career and social life while planning for their future, are particularly vulnerable to stress. Why? Because college students may not realize just how much stress can affect their health, and choose to forgo sleep and healthy eating in favor of all-night study sessions or parties.

But stress, of course, is not something that you only have to face during your college years. Some 43 percent of all adults suffer from stress-related health problems, according to the AIS. Common complaints include back pain, stomachaches, ear and sinus infections, headaches and overall tension. Stress has also been shown to weaken the immune system, leaving you vulnerable to a host of diseases.

If stress is causing you major problems (you no longer feel like yourself or feel you cannot cope), you should seek advice from a health care professional. But for those facing everyday stress, the type that inevitably occurs from, well, life in general, the National Mental Health Association offers these tips for reducing stress in your life:

Learn to say no! Only take on activities that you can manage. Meditate and visualize how to manage a stressful situation with ease. Resist the urge to be Superman or Superwoman. Remember that no one is perfect! When you're feeling overwhelmed, take things one step at a time. Exercise. It's a great stress reliever. Lead a healthy lifestyle--get enough sleep, eat well, limit alcohol and caffeine and exercise. Take time for yourself. Don't overlook your hobbies. "Me-time" is essential for stress relief.

Alcohol: Why You Need to Know When Enough is Enough

Though you may think of having a few drinks with friends over the weekend as an innocent way to relax after the busy week, college drinking can easily, and often does for many students, spiral out of control.

In fact, according to a college alcohol study by the Harvard School of Public Health:

A full 6 percent of college students meet criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol dependence (or alcoholism). 31 percent meet criteria for alcohol abuse. Two out of every five students report at least one symptom of the above conditions, which puts them at an increased risk of developing an alcohol disorder.

And although alcohol is readily available, overindulging (if you have a hangover, you've definitely overindulged) can cause serious health problems, both immediately and over time. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported in its 2002 World Report that alcohol is one of the 10 leading causes of death and injury in developed countries and caused an estimated 20-30 percent of:

Esophageal cancer Liver disease Epilepsy Motor Vehicle Accidents Homicide and other intentional injuries

And at colleges themselves, alcohol is related to a number of scary outcomes. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), for students between the ages of 18-24:

1,400 students die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes. 500,000 are unintentionally injured under the influence of alcohol. More than 70,000 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape. 400,000 students had unprotected sex and more than 100,000 report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex. 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.

How to Cut Down on Drinking

If you suspect you may have a drinking problem, please seek help from a health care provider. In this case, stopping drinking all together (not just cutting down) is necessary. If you are looking for ways to cut back on your own drinking for health or other reasons, the NIAAA offers these suggestions (

Write down your reasons for cutting down or quitting. Set a drinking goal. Include a limit for drinks per day and drinks per week. Keep a drinking "diary," in which you write down when and how much you drink for three to four weeks. Keep a small amount, or no, alcohol at home. Sip your drink slowly, eat and drink water while drinking and wait one hour between drinks. Take a break from all alcohol from time to time. Learn to say no. You don't have to drink because others around you are drinking. Stay active. Get support from friends and family to help you reach your goal.

Finally, whether you are seeking to limit alcohol or stress in your life, don't give up. Changing habits and routines takes time, so don't expect changes to happen overnight. Give yourself the credit you deserve for making small steps, and watch how the small steps add up to a healthier and happier future.

About the Author

Linda Slater Dowling, a certified natural health professional, is CEO & founder of the Nutritional Institute, home of the new STUDENT FORMULA Natural Health Products. For a FREE e-book on "Eating Right on a Budget" visit their Web site at . You may also want to sign up for their popular "Be Smart, Be Healthy, Be Natural" e-newsletter.






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