The vicious cycle of alcoholism and mental health

Win or lose, Cougs booze.

The often-cited ‘unofficial’ motto of Washington State University hides a more concerning reality: how we cope with stress.

The United States tops the world in stress, with the fewest days off per year in the world, in addition to the largest amount of work hours per year, according to the American Institute of Stress.

While these studies might originate in the workplace, the realm of college is far from free of stressors.

As many as 80 percent of college students experience notable stress daily, 13 percent are diagnosed with a mental health condition related to stress, and a startling one in ten students considered suicide in the past year, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

While WSU has programs and activities to help student alleviate stress, blowing off steam on the weekend and drinking is often cited as the easiest way to cope.

“Alcohol can seem to make you more relaxed,” according to, a British website that advocates responsible consumption of alcohol, which is why so many turn to it after stressful events. The site also states that regularly drinking in excess can actually exacerbate stress.

“Over time, heavy drinking interferes with neurotransmitters in the brain that promote good mental health,” said Eva Cyhlarova of the Mental Health Foundation in a 2012 article by meQuilibrium. “While drinking can help with stress in the short term, in the long run it can contribute to feelings of depression, anxiety, and make stress harder to deal with.”

Students’ habits of using something to fix a problem are encouraged by the heavy pressure of the academic lifestyle. For example, those who lack sleep often consume energy drinks and coffee, and rather than occasionally getting a boost, they become dependent after long periods of time, a process that can be reflected in students using alcohol to deal with stress.

This phenomenon was actually the subject of a study in ‘Biological Rhythm Research,’ an academic journal, which found that students’ go-to for dealing with stress and lack of sleep is drinking.

There is, of course, a difference between the occasional drink to help with stress, and alcoholic dependency. Self-assessment and self-awareness are vital, and having a willingness to take steps to address problems you might be concerned about is vital to overall wellness.

There are programs at WSU available to students suffering from stress or alcohol dependency. Counseling and Psychological Services offers workshops for stress, time management and promotion of healthy minds and bodies.

“We have AA, and NA, walking distance from the campus,” said Cassandra Nichols, director of Counseling and Psychological Services.

Students can join Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) to find support groups which meet off campus to protect the identities of those involved.