ideas_kegstand_0522.jpgBinge drinking wreaks havoc on young people’s lives — and may raise the risk of alcoholism in their future

By: Erika Christakis

Proposed changes to the psychiatric profession’s diagnostic manual, the DSM-5, have caused a recent uproar, with critics worried that the new label of “alcohol abuse disorder” will overdiagnose young problem drinkers — as many as 40% of college students — who eventually outgrow their dysfunctional behavior. Editors of the DSM-5 countered that the change in definition won’t increase diagnosis, but the whole debate is merely a sideshow. As a member of Harvard University’s Alcohol and Other Drug Services Executive Committee, I know firsthand that drinking among young adults is still a very serious problem that needs treatment.

Whether or not problem drinkers become alcoholics later in life — and there’s evidence that many of them do — we can’t ignore the hard reality that college binge drinking plays a central role in campus deaths, sexual assaults, physical injuries, destruction of property, failing academic performance, unintended pregnancies, STDs, depression, domestic violence and other mental-health problems.

The statistics are truly sobering. Every year, more than 3 million students between ages 18 and 24 drive while drunk. Alcohol accounts for 1,850 annual deaths in that age group, including deaths from car crashes and suicide. Almost 600,000 are injured under the influence of alcohol and another 700,000 have been assaulted by an intoxicated student. Around 400,000 had unprotected sex as a result of intoxication and 100,000 reported being too drunk to give consent for sex. Eleven percent of college drinkers damaged property. A quarter report academic difficulty due to alcohol use, while 150,000 college students have alcohol-related health problems.

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