When I was in college, like most others around me, I drank a lot. I did it to fit in and to be cool. I did it because it was the fun thing to do on a weekend after a week of heavy studying. What I didn’t realize was that the heavy drinking I was participating in literally changed the chemistry of my brain.
It all started in my later high school years. I was kind of a nerd and was very quiet. The first time I drank, this other side of my personality came out that usually only came out around close friends and family members. Suddenly, I felt capable of saying whatever I wanted to whomever I wanted. I felt cool. People started talking to me more as a result because it took away my shyness.
I only drank when I was going out to party, and I never really felt like I had an addiction. It was more that I drank because the people who I was hanging around were drinkers as well. When I got to college, the drinking continued and got even more hardcore. I would regularly drink to the point of vomiting and struggling with massive hangovers the following day.
It was “cool” that I could handle so much liquor for such a small girl. It was “cool” that I could play beer pong as well as the guys. It was “cool” that I had no filter when I was drunk. There was also a lot of pressure from friends to drink past the point of feeling comfortable. My body started to get used to it, and even after the worst possible hangovers, it always bounced back.
Then, in 2013, my mental health hit an all time low. My mom was diagnosed with cancer and I had to move back home. It might just have been my own saving grace. Who knows what sort of irreversible damage I could have continued doing to myself each weekend as I drank in such a way that I was keeping up with those around me, but for a woman of such a petite frame as myself, it must have been extremely damaging.
Since 2013, I’ve been healing. I stopped drinking as profusely around that time in general, ironically, after my 21st birthday in 2014. I think there was something that had to do with the fact that it was now legal and that I had spent the past four years or so prior overdoing it so much. On my journey to better health, I began to realize that the alcohol I drank was truly doing a lot of damage to my brain and body that I could never have predicted back then. Unfortunately, for so many young people, heavy drinking in college is such a cultural thing that they can easily get swept up in the normalization of it. But outside of the college bubble, the repercussions are real. I know I might sound like one of those cheesy after-school specials or those people from organizations that would come to high schools during which I would have rolled my eyes or was not relevant to me at the time, but this is my truth—drinking damaged my brain. It worsened my anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders I was already struggling with.
The haziness it causes in the moment can seem like fun and games, but when you are hit with real life pain and forced to look at it, the brain damage caused by years of overusing alcohol can get in the way of your healing process. I’m now 26 years old and I barely drink. I was never an alcoholic—I never relapsed. As I mentioned, it was always situational and cultural. But that doesn’t mean I escaped the impact of what the alcohol did to my mind, body, and spirit.