University of Rochester

University Health Service (UHS)
Health Promotion Office

Alcohol Use, Abuse and Dependency

Did you know that national surveys have indicated that upwards of 14 million Americans, that's one out of every 13 adults, abuse alcohol or are alcoholic? For most adults, moderate alcohol use (1-2 drinks per day for adult males and 1 drink per day for adult females and elderly) is not harmful. In fact, moderate alcohol use has shown to have a positive effect on cardiac health, and can be a pleasant addition to social gatherings. However, unhealthy alcohol misuse or abuse can be life-threatening. Heavy drinking has been shown to increase one's risk for certain cancers, particularly cancer of the liver, esophagus, throat, and larynx (voice box). In addition, heavy drinking can cause cirrhosis of the liver, brain damage, and impairment of the immune system. Drinking increases one's risk of death from an automobile crash or recreational/occupational injury, and can cause severe economic hardship if one's drinking behavior affects one's ability to keep a steady job.

Alcoholism is a serious, often under-recognized, national disease. UR students should learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of alcoholism, and that affected individuals are given appropriate support and assistance before it is too late.

Alcohol Use

When a person is using alcohol s/he drinks in moderation, ensures that the focus of the evening is something other than the alcohol itself, and does not drink with the sole purpose of getting intoxicated. Furthermore, a person who is using alcohol works to maintain a safe BAC (< 0.06), and experiences no substance related harm. Many college students safely use alcohol as a way to enhance another social activity, such as watching a football game on TV, a poker night, or a casual evening with friends. It is possible to use alcohol safely and enjoy the positive benefits of the substance. For more information on alcohol use and maximizing one's drinking experience, see How to Maximize the Positive Effects of Alcohol.

Alcohol Abuse

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol abuse is defined as a pattern of drinking that results in one or more of the following situations within a 12-month period:

When a person abuses alcohol s/he uses it with the sole purpose of becoming intoxicated, uses it in such a way that it leads to a pattern of negative consequences, and/or experiences harm directly related to and caused by his/her consumption of alcohol. Some examples of alcohol-related harms commonly experienced by individuals who misuse alcohol are: passing out, vomiting, getting into a fight, and/or memory lapse. Such individuals will have a BAC higher than 0.06, and lose the ability to maximize the positive effects of drinking (see How to Maximize the Positive Effects of Alcohol for more information). Playing drinking games, ie: Beirut, is a common form of alcohol abuse among college students.

Alcohol Dependency

When an individual becomes physically dependent on a substance s/he experience cravings and a compulsion to use it. If s/he doesn't use the substance, s/he will experience withdrawal. People who are dependent on alcohol are pre-occupied with the use of the substance, and its use becomes a daily/weekly priority. Students who are alcohol dependent often schedule only late classes, lose the ability to predict how much they are going to drink in a given evening (lack of self-control), experience frequent blackouts, sneak drinks in order to hide how much they actually consume from close friends and family, drink before going out (pre-game), and develop/maintain a high tolerance.

In addition, any efforts employed to cut down on drinking are unsuccessful. Although many dependent students feel as though his/her drinking problems will cease with graduation from college, such individuals are often sadly mistaken. Dependency is a serious medical problem that requires time, diligence, and support to overcome. However, help is available. See Getting Help or How to Help a Friend for more information.


Alcoholism is the disease that results when an individual becomes physically dependent on/addicted to alcohol. Often non-alcoholics don't understand why an alcoholic can not override their desire to drink with willpower or commitment. Unfortunately, it isn't that simple. Alcoholics crave alcohol just as people crave food or water, and will literally feel a compulsion to drink in order to survive. Alcoholics lose the ability to limit their intake of alcohol, as well as to limit their drinking to certain occasions and/or celebrations. Without alcohol, alcoholics go through a period of withdrawal, similar to that of individual addicted to "hard drug" such as cocaine or heroine, with symptoms such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, anxiety, and insomnia. Over time one's tolerance will build, causing an alcoholic to ingest a greater and greater quantity of alcohol in order to appease their physical cravings and experience the "high".

Research shows that the risk of developing alcoholism tends to run in families. Although genes certainly play a role, lifestyle is really the determining factor. Alcoholism can usually be avoided with safe, continual monitoring of alcohol intake. See "Getting Help" for more information.

Recognizing a Problem

Recognizing a problem is unique to each individual drinker. Different people may experience the negative effects of alcohol misuse/abuse after ingesting different quantities of alcohol over varying lengths of time, and no two drinkers are exactly alike. To begin with, concerned individuals should ask themselves the following questions.

  1. Do you drink because you have problems? To relax?
  2. Do you drink when you get mad at other people, your friends or parents?
  3. Do you prefer to drink alone, rather than with others?
  4. Are your grades starting to slip? Are you goofing off on your job?
  5. Did you ever try to stop drinking or drink less - and fail?
  6. Have you begun to drink in the morning, before school or work?
  7. Do you gulp your drinks?
  8. Do you ever have loss of memory due to your drinking?
  9. Do you lie about your drinking?
  10. Do you ever get into trouble when you're drinking?
  11. Do you get drunk when you drink, even when you don't mean to?
  12. Do you think it's cool to be able to hold your liquor?
    *adopted from

If you find that you have answered yes to one or more of the above questions you may either have or be developing an alcohol-related problem. To learn more about your alcohol use, see Resources/Links.


National Resources

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Self-Assessments

E-Toke: Marijuana Self-Assessment

Screening for Mental Health

Campus Resources

UHS Health Promotion Office     (585)273-5772

University Counseling Center      585-275-3113

For more information, contact Linda Dudman in the UHS Health Promotion Office at (585) 273-5770 or

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Last modified: Thursday, 26-May-2011 16:37:57 EDT