Many college binge drinkers may soon be considered alcoholics, according to the changes that will be implemented in the newest version of psychiatry’s diagnostic manual.
In the current psychiatric diagnostic manual, DSM-IV, binge drinking is considered to be a form of alcohol abuse, while alcohol dependency is a more serious issue that falls under the label of alcoholism. The new definition of alcoholism in DSM-V, which goes into effect on May 22, will eliminate the distinction between alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence, creating a new category that encompasses both afflictions called alcohol use disorder.
The new category would result in 40 percent of college students who binge drink being classified as mild alcoholics. According to CNN, only 5 percent of college graduates will actually develop lifelong drinking problems, yet the change in the definition of the term could label many as lifelong alcoholics.
Jackie Kurta, director of UCSB’s Alcohol & Drug Program, said she is concerned with the new definition in regard to students at UCSB and believes the ‘college student lifestyle’ greatly skews the data.
“I think it’s a potentially risky and somewhat misleading classification,” Kurta said. “I think that there are also circumstances in which the environment and the situations can appear as if those criteria are met. If people are taken out of the environment and their life situation has changed, some of this criteria may not be consistent.”
According to Kurta, the definition would alter how the disease is labeled, but that the new definition may not necessarily change the drinking habits of many college students.
“It might raise some level of awareness and perhaps some fear, but I’m not sure it would change the behaviors unless people were really made aware of the long-term risks and the dangers to their health and safety,” Kurta said.
Some studies claim that this new definition is not the best way to label people with alcohol problems, as the change may result in an inaccurate diagnosis or could pathologize normal behavior. Though some have claimed that the mere changing of a definition of a disorder will not be enough to alter behavior, others argue that a change needs to be made to show a progression in the understanding and diagnostics of psychiatric disorders.
Kelsey Burkman, a first-year Spanish major, said she does not anticipate the new definition will change students’ drinking behavior right away, but it could discourage many from alcohol abuse over time as the term becomes more widespread.
“I think it will definitely make people stop and reconsider what they’re doing, but I don’t think that it’s going to have any significant immediate affects,” Burkman said.
According to UCSB mental health peer intern Lisa Mitalas, binge drinking is definitely alcoholic behavior, and the health risks involved and the possibility of being labeled as an alcoholic could result in a reduction of the amounts of students who binge drink.
The long-term effects of binge drinking in college could be more serious alcoholism later in life, Mitalas said.
“It makes a huge impact on your life. Casual binge drinking in college could certainly lead to dependency in the future,” Mitalas said.
A version of this article appeared on page 3 of January 30th, 2013′s print edition of the Nexus.