Drinking problems rampage among college students causing severe health risks

Young people are gathering around downtown Chicago and attending parties on weekends.

By Xinyi Zhang
Medill Reports

College students often assume that they can escape most of the negative physical and mental effects of consuming alcohol because they are young and healthy and some don’t drink all that frequently. But even minimal consumption of alcoholic beverages can still have significant negative impacts on health regardless of age. That’s according to Dr. Mashkoor A. Choudhry, a Loyola University professor of surgery, microbiology, and immunology.

Alcohol has a major impact on physical health, personal safety, and is linked to mood, and eating disorders, he says.

“Regular alcohol consumption affects multiple organs including the brain and greatly influences a person’s cognitive abilities. Alcohol has an immediate effect on the brain, making it difficult for a person to inhibit impulses and concentrate,” Choudhry says. This increases the likelihood of making poor decisions and may encourage irresponsible sexual behavior and drunk driving, the cause of many accidents. Frequent alcohol consumption puts college students at risk and may result in physical harm, injury or even death.

Contrary to popular belief that occasionally drinking small amounts of alcohol does not have any negative effects, Choudhry says that any amount can cause health problems.

Overview of the intestinal barrier, immune cells, and microbiome. All are impacted by alcohol use. (Mashkoor Choudhry/Loyola University)

Some college students fall under the category of binge drinkers since they consume copious amounts of alcohol on the weekend or during parties. The research he conducted shows that binge drinking increases permeability in the intestines and lungs which increases the risks of infection. He also notes that people who consume large quantities of alcohol regularly are highly likely to experience serious problems such as liver disease.

A University of Washington graduate student who did not want to be identified revealed that drinking alcohol initially makes him feel happy.  But, as he sobers up, he would feel more upset than before he started drinking. Alcohol can have a temporary positive effect on a person’s mood, which makes it seem like a good idea to drink when upset. However, eventually, “the feelings of sadness never seemed to go away,” he said.

“Alcohol negatively affects cognitive functioning and this could result in an increased likelihood of having intense mood swings over time,” Choudhry says.

Alcohol interferes with the brain’s processes and it can cause depression. This can have serious mental health challenges for college students and lead to other issues such as anxiety and suicidal tendencies.

Alcohol consumption also is associated with eating disorders because both serve as an escape from daily troubles. A lot of college students who consume alcohol note that, after a night of drinking, they don’t feel hungry the next day.

Alcohol is high in calories and filling, but it does not provide the body’s required nutrients. The habit of drinking alcohol instead of eating food limits the essential nutrients that a person needs for good health. Alcohol also promotes eating disorders since, instead of promoting good eating habits, it provides a coping mechanism and encourages people to continue unhealthy eating habits.

Consuming alcohol is prevalent among college students as part of their entertainment circuit and as a way of dealing with stress.

A 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) shows that 53.6% of full-time college students from age 18 to 22 drank alcohol in the past month and 34.8% engaged in binge drinking. That means consuming 5 or more drinks on a single occasion for men or 4 or more drinks on an occasion for women in the past month. Some 9.7% engaged in heavy alcohol use – binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past month. These rates are much higher than for people in the same age group who are not attending college.

There are a lot of places for people with alcohol addiction to go for help. Alcoholics Anonymous is one. Local offices sometimes have meetings on college campuses for students. Besides that, staff from Chicago’s local office noted that they “have young people’s meetings.”

Drinking Alcohol and Immunity

While the negative impacts of alcohol on the body, brain, and behavior have been already studied and researched, there are still some fruitful avenues to work on in order to disclose how alcohol affects the immune system.

Choudhry, a renowned researcher of alcohol abuse, has studied almost every scenario involving the impact of alcohol on the human body.

The impacts start with the digestive system but then the process heavily influences the entire organism, including the liver, cardiovascular system, locomotion system, and the immune system.

“The spatial relationships established between the lumen and barrier of the gut are essential for the proper function of the GI tract in digestion and nutrient absorption,” Choudhry said.

However, the process of the nutrients exchange between the lumen and the gut is simply impossible when the intestine is being burned from the inside which, in turn, is a direct outcome of alcohol intoxication. As a result, the body is denied nutrients and lipids and the process of how the gut interacts with the immune system is disturbed.

This is a chemical and biological turmoil of the body and bacteria that takes place as soon as the percentage of alcohol reaches a certain level. Consuming alcohol automatically increases the probability of developing chronic and deadly diseases.

The biochemical balance of the body is distorted when alcohol burns the intestine and that can lay the foundation for the emergence of chronic viral and infectious diseases.

Photo at top: College students partying in downtown Chicago. (Xinyi Zhang/Medill)