You make them every day. Some don’t seem to be of great significance – what to wear, what movie to see, where to go eat out – while other choices have determined the course of your life. Especially the choice of where to attend college will have put you on a totally different path than a different choice you might have made.

One of the major choices you make during your college years involves the use of alcohol. Now may be the time to review some choices you have already made and decide if they are right for you. Use the following information to help guide you.

Alcohol Can Affect Brain Function

These are some effects you may not have given much thought. Drinking can impact five areas of mental functioning. These include memory foundation – which is short-term memory (Did I have a good time last night, or didn’t I?), abstract thinking, problem solving, attention and concentration and even perceptions of emotion. Hmm, it sounds like those are things that should be functioning at their best in order to do well in school, get along with others socially and make wise CHOICES.

Drinking Can Affect Your Academic Standing

The following statistics show on average, students who drink the most alcohol receive the lowest grades:
“A” students average 3.1 drinks per week
“B” students average 4.4 drinks per week
“C” students average 5.6 drinks per week
“D” and “F” students average 9.5. drinks per week

Some of the reasons behind this might be that students who are out late partying often oversleep and miss class, and people who party several times a week can fall behind on their homework, projects or papers – causing a low GPA and even dropping out of school.

Alcohol and Sexual Decision Making

Healthy choices about alcohol now can prevent you from having to make some very difficult choices in the future, whereas unwise choices can limit the choices you may be able to make. Sound confusing? Consider this… When alcohol (or another drug) is added to a sexual situation, this risk drastically increases. The risks can be: sexually transmitted infections (some leading to chronic infections, sterility or even cancer), unintended pregnancy, decisions about pressing charges for sexual assault or possibly facing charges for sexual assault and the risk of emotional turmoil from any of the above. In something as important as sex, it pays to keep it sober, respectful, intentional and in the context of a committed relationship.

Alcohol and General Health

For college students the vast majority of health risks occur over the course of a single evening, not after decades of abuse. A college-aged student has a higher risk of an alcohol-related injury caused by a car crash, slipping or falling, getting into a fight, etc. than developing cirrhosis of the liver. However, it’s worth thinking about the long-term health risks associated with drinking over time, especially if you find yourself in a pattern of heavy drinking. These risks include damage to the heart, liver and brain as well as other physical effects such as weight gain, dry skin and a compromised immune system.

Alcohol and Nutrition

Alcohol has a definite impact on your dietary health and nutrition. It’s easy to forget how many calories, in addition to alcohol, you can consume with each beverage. Many students don’t realize that one evening of drinking can be equivalent to a meal or even an entire day’s worth of calories! Chronic heavy drinking often leads to careless eating and inadequate intake of the right kinds of nutrients. Read more about how alcohol affects your health in the next section.

Alcohol and Athletic Performance

Achieving optimal athletic performance requires practice and training to be at the top of your game both mentally and physically. Athletes tend to underestimate how even a few drinks can abolish your hard work by deleting the effects of your workouts, reducing your endurance and compromising your mental game. The goal of any athlete is to be at the peak of performance. Your body is the instrument of the performance, so treat it with care.

Alcohol use cancels out any gains from your workout. Even though few athletes consume alcohol after a workout, practice or competition it can still cancel out any physiological gains you may have received from such activities. Not only does long-term alcohol use diminish protein synthesis resulting in reduced muscle gain, even short-term alcohol use can impede muscle growth.

Alcohol causes dehydration and slows down the body’s ability to heal. Speeding the recovery of sore muscles and injuries is integral to optimal performance. Alcohol is a toxin – a toxin that travels through your bloodstream to every organ and tissue in your body, causing dehydration and slowing your body’s ability to heal itself.

Alcohol use prevents muscle recovery. In order to build bigger and stronger muscles, your body needs sleep to repair itself after a workout. Because of alcohol’s affect on sleep, however, your body is robbed of a precious chemical called “human growth hormone” (HGH). HGH is part of the normal muscle-building and repair process and the body’s way of telling itself your muscle needs to grow bigger and stronger. Alcohol can decrease the secretion by as much as 70%! Also, when alcohol is in your body, it triggers the production of a substance in your liver that is directly toxic to testosterone. Testosterone is essential for the development and recovery of your muscles.

Alcohol use depletes your source of energy. Once alcohol is absorbed through your stomach and small intestine and finally into your cells, it can disrupt the water balance in muscle cells, thus altering their ability to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is your muscles’ source of energy. ATP provides the fuel necessary for your muscles to contract. Alcohol also reduces energy sources by inhibiting a process known as gluconeogenesis in which glucose is formed from substances other than glucose. When alcohol is oxidized by alcohol dehydrogenase (an enzyme), it produces an elevation of NADH, which ultimately reduces the amount of coenzyme that is essential in the production of ATP. The loss of ADP results in the lack of energy and the loss of endurance.

Alcohol use inhibits ability to learn new information. Any athlete knows that preparation, such as learning plays and sound strategies, is essential to peak performance. However, alcohol can have a devastating effect on this process. When there is alcohol in your system, your brain’s ability to learn and store new information is inhibited due to compromising of the hippocampus, a structure deep in the brain vital to the formation of memories. If you cannot form new memories, you cannot learn.

Alcohol use hampers memory and retention. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as just not drinking while studying plays and before team meetings. Memory formation is a complex process that takes a long time. Many of your memories are solidified when you are not thinking about the material. In fact, much of memory formation occurs while you sleep. Alcohol affects your sleep cycle by disrupting the sequence and duration of normal sleep, reducing your brain’s ability to learn and retain information. Even drinking up to six hours before you go to sleep will negatively affect your sleep cycle. For example, if you drink after a day of classes, studying or learning new plays, you are not getting 100 percent of your efforts because of the effects of the alcohol you drank. Consuming five or more alcoholic drinks in one night can affect brain and body activities for up to three days. Two consecutive nights of drinking five or more alcohol beverages can affect brain and body activities for up to five days.

Alcohol use constricts metabolism and endurance. Being physically fit and well-conditioned is the hallmark of a champion. However, no matter how many wind sprints and laps you do, drinking alcohol constricts your aerobic metabolism and endurance.

Alcohol use requires increased conditioning to maintain weight. Alcohol holds very little nutritional value to the athlete. The relatively high calories in alcohol are not available to your muscles. Alcohol calories are not converted to glycogen, a form of stored carbohydrates and thus are not a good source of energy during exercise. Each drink contains approximately 100 – 150 empty calories. The body treats alcohol as fat, converting alcohol sugars into fatty acids.

Alcohol use inhibits absorption of nutrients. Not only is alcohol devoid of proteins, minerals and vitamins, it actually inhibits the absorption and usage of vital nutrients such as thiamin (vitamin B1), vitamin B12, folic acid and zinc. Thiamin (vitamin B1) is involved in the metabolism of proteins and fat and the formation of hemoglobin. It is also essential to optimal performance for its role in metabolizing carbohydrates. Vitamin B12 is essential to good health. It helps maintain healthy red blood and nerve cells. Folic acid is an integral part of a coenzyme involved in the formation of new cells; a lack of it can cause a blood disorder called megaloblastic anemia, which causes a lowering of oxygen carrying capacity and thus negatively affects endurance activities. Zinc is also essential to your energy metabolic processes. Since alcohol depletes your zinc resources, the effect is an even greater reduction of your endurance.

How can you tell if one of your friends or teammates is having difficulties with alcohol? Many people can use alcohol in a low-risk way without experiencing difficulties. However, there are those people who use alcohol and have a variety of negative experiences, which may suggest a more serious problem. Figuring out when a friends drinking is no longer low-risk and has developed into a problem can be tricky at times, especially since some people think there is a stigma associated with having alcohol-related problems. In fact, it is not uncommon for your friend to do everything he or she can to explain away for hiding a problem.

Getting Help

For more information or to learn about how to help a friend with an alcohol or drug related concern contact the SCHC Counseling Services for a free and confidential appointment with a professional counselor.