Nearly 40 percent of college students at four-year U.S. institutions could be deemed alcoholics next year, according to the label in the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
The current edition of the manual labels alcohol issues as either alcohol abuse, classified as a short-term problem, or alcohol dependence, a chronic problem popularly recognized as alcoholism.
But the proposed changes in the newest edition of the manual, which will be published in May 2013 following final revisions, would only include one diagnosis: substance use disorder. Patients would be measured as mild, moderate or severe cases, depending on the number of harmful criteria they meet based on their history of actions involving alcohol, not the quantity or frequency of their drinking.
Assistant professor Daniel Logan of the UF Department of Psychiatry said diagnosing college students under the new system would be difficult because of the short amount of time most students have been drinking. The lack of opportunities students have to evaluate the consequences of their drinking makes it harder to justify diagnosing them as being alcohol-dependent.
“Once you’re an alcoholic, you don’t go to not being an alcoholic anymore,” he said. “We don’t want to give people labels or stigmatize them with something that’s transient.”
Kevin Dotson, a 23-year-old Santa Fe College student who says his father is a functioning alcoholic, agreed.
For as long as Dotson can remember, his father drinks every night after work. Sometimes he only drinks one cocktail, Dotson said, but sometimes he mixes alcohol with sleeping pills.
“I wouldn’t want any college kid to relate to what my dad does,” he said. “They’re just doing it for fun and being social.”
Logan said the classifications could encourage denial and functional alcoholism.
“People think,‘I’m not that bad, I’m not as bad as they are. I can’t have a problem’,” he said. “It will have a bad outcome for our patients.”