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Alcoholism and Grad School


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Not the most pleasant topic, but I think it's one that deserves being addressed. Is any one else as concerned as I am about grad student drinking habits? I get the impression that several students in my program are decently heavy drinkers. I enjoy imbibing as much as the next person (hell, maybe even more), but I can't help but fear that the atmosphere at this school (top public university with plenty of bars and lax pot laws) might contribute to some pretty unhealthy behaviors. Anybody want to share their experiences w/regard to alcohol (and other substances) and social life? I'm curious to hear what do you guys do to maintain a balance.

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What you'll find is that the most productive students are those who control their drinking. It's the same kind of thing as time management skills. I'm at a large state university in a college town and yes, the graduate students drink. But the good ones... they drink maybe once or twice a week and predominantly at happy hour. The advantage of happy hour is 1) cheaper drinks, 2) drinking earlier, 3) minimizes the stay out til the bars close thing, 4) you get hungry for dinner and that tends to send you home. The best part is that because you're home earlier, you can get up and be productive the next day.

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There's a big transition one needs to make between undergrad and grad school. Most successful students make it. I know I can't drink more than once a fortnight, unless it's going to meet with an adviser and having a maximum of two beers while discussing school-related matters. Keep in mind, I used to go out every night after getting my homework done as a bachelor's student, and managed a perfect GPA. In grad school this is not possible (nor is it desirable).

The first few days of orientation, and any visitation weekends you attended, might give you the false impression that your whole cohort goes out and gets sloppy after every meeting. You have to realize that beginning the term with such bonding rituals can serve an important purpose, but when the time for socializing is over, we all have to put our sober hats back on.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Obviously our resident experts on pretty much everything already excellently covered the "yeah, you should probably not do that if you want to do well" aspect. But they did not cover another aspect it sounded like you were asking in there, as to whether alcohol in general was inexorably linked to the graduate social life.

It is entirely possible that I will go my entire life without drinking (or smoking pot or really doing anything interesting like that), and I have never had difficulty having a good time hanging out with others in my cohort, or getting along with them in general. Now, I also will likely miss out on at least a few good chances to get wasted with my research advisor and make a permanent friendship bond, but the extra money and free time seem worth it. You can make just about anything work in graduate school, it seems. Even if you did drink every night, as long as you spent the whole afternoon researching and writing beforehand, you could likely still make it work. I just do not know that I have met anyone who has successfully balanced extreme drinking with extreme research.

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  • 8 months later...

As a recovering alcoholic, I can tell you alcoholism doesn't discriminate and it's fairly prevalent. If you're concerned about falling into that sort of trap, just remember people, places, and things. But the reality I've found is that if you are already so concerned you might already be having your own issues with drinking, and going to grad school or work or really just a simple change of environment won't do much to change that. It's certainly true that some environments are worse than others, however. A college student, grad or undergrad, could link wanton drinking habits to a college lifestyle, perceiving them as acceptable. A student suffering from an addiction might also feel pushed to continue using in an effort to avoid the mentally and physically debilitating effects of withdrawal, as advisors are known to be unsympathetic and students will often do whatever it takes to pass/get good grades, as testing etc is viewed as a temporary situation with permanent effects.

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When I started working at my current job, I absolutely hated it. It's alot of long hours in an office and it consumes a big part of my life. Drinking is the only way to socialize with my dull co-workers, who all seem to have only one hobby -- drinking. I'm not even a big drinker when left to my own device, but something about the atmosphere, my own stress level and crappy weather had me going out much more than I wanted to.

I took up yoga, started taking night classes and in general, started being very active about making time away from all this fabulousness. I will probably take this experience to heart and do the same in grad-school. It's going to consume 70-80% of my life, but I think it's healthy to develop a life away from it, too. This might be a good defense against alcoholism or just the general hysteria that is passed from one stressed out person to another when you spend all day working together and have common gripes.

edit: Of course, if you think the problem is that you have a tendency toward alcoholism, then you should do something more drastic, like AA, but if you feel that these are habits you are picking up from the people around you and you're not really eager to go out drinking, but everybody else is, I'd say consciously building a small part of your life away from your grad department may work.

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  • 7 years later...

I am currently trying to recover from alcoholism that began during graduate school. I am in in 6th year and I have been sober since July, with a few relapses. It is a really difficult environment that totally does foster alcoholism. At least in my world, you can get away with heavy drinking several times a week, and are actually praised at times for the ability. 

Now, as I am trying to recover. I am not only sick of the life I have found myself in (although I am actively trying to change it) but also the project that I am still having to devout my time to, even though every thought of it reminds me of my alcoholism. 

This is really hard. I do wish more people would address the culture of alcohol and acceptance in academia. 

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I don't (think I) suffer from alcoholism, but I do drink way more than I did during undergrad and perhaps am a bit concerned. Every weekend a group of us goes out and I drink a LOT and get pretty intoxicated. It's become a ritual, really, and people have already dubbed me as "the drinker" of the group. 

I always have people to drive me and we all have a really good time and bond, and I'm still productive (I have a young liver and have no hangovers). Sure, it's probably not wise to get drunk every weekend, but like rising star mentioned, we always go during happy hour and we always get food after. We are being responsible about it that way, I suppose, but yeah, I do feel like grad school has encouraged me to drink more than I normally would to combat the stress, which isn't always healthy, I know.

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  • 4 months later...
On 10/4/2016 at 0:33 AM, klader said:

I don't (think I) suffer from alcoholism, but I do drink way more than I did during undergrad and perhaps am a bit concerned. Every weekend a group of us goes out and I drink a LOT and get pretty intoxicated. It's become a ritual, really, and people have already dubbed me as "the drinker" of the group. 

I always have people to drive me and we all have a really good time and bond, and I'm still productive (I have a young liver and have no hangovers). Sure, it's probably not wise to get drunk every weekend, but like rising star mentioned, we always go during happy hour and we always get food after. We are being responsible about it that way, I suppose, but yeah, I do feel like grad school has encouraged me to drink more than I normally would to combat the stress, which isn't always healthy, I know.

 
 

Oh, dear. Just so you know, being young and relatively high functioning have absolutely nothing to do with alcoholism. Plenty of alcoholics have all of the qualities you mentioned.

Now, I'm not calling you an alcoholic. However, if you are already known as "the drinker", it's probably time to reassess some things. 

Just remember that all high functioning alcoholics started out exactly like you. (And we all indulged the same rationalizations/excuses. ;) )

Edited by socrate4se
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On 2/15/2017 at 9:36 PM, socrate4se said:

Oh, dear. Just so you know, being young and relatively high functioning have absolutely nothing to do with alcoholism. Plenty of alcoholics have all of the qualities you mentioned.

Now, I'm not calling you an alcoholic. However, if you are already known as "the drinker", it's probably time to reassess some things. 

Just remember that all high functioning alcoholics started out exactly like you. (And we all indulged the same rationalizations/excuses. ;) )

Oh, yes. I am aware! That's all very true. Thanks for your input.

I think I'm not in terrible danger, though, because we have slowed down and I've actually gone several weeks without a drink (and without the desire to have one). So that's good! 

We actually just talked about this the other day re: self-care. We realized that we tend to just end up at this one particular bar on Fridays, so we're trying to find other ways to relieve stress that are, er, easier on our livers. :)

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I have a motto: When you are off balance, avoid slippery slopes.   Alcohol isn't bad in of itself, but it can be a slippery slope, and the Ph.D program has a way of putting you off balance.  You have to know your limits and if you think it might be a problem, then it is best to avoid it.

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I dont like alcohol as much as I did as an undergrad. For starters I dont have anyone to drink with and I dont like bars too much since they feel like a big waste of money compared to going to the store and buying alcohol there. The undergrad parties at my school blow so hard. Most of them don't have alcohol there (they conveniently run out when I show up lol) and its just a bunch of lame people glued to their cell phones who barely interact with people. The greek scene here seems like where all the bad ass parties are at but sadly greek life here is like a country club for teenagers in that lots of money and kissing ass is required to get in and outsiders arent welcome unless you have a vagina (which I dont).

I like smoking and taking xanax more when by myself since they both help me focus/ relax better on my work and are easy for me to access. I also dont like alcohol due to the weight gain and the hang overs. I wouldnt mind going out and getting drunk if I knew people that were fun to hang with, but drinking alone is just not fun. 

Edited by cloud420strife
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I should preface that I'm of the mind that most things in moderation are fine, assuming one can moderate themselves. Also, I think it's worth emphasizing in this thread that there's a substantial difference between binge drinking and having a beer (especially lower point beers) or glass of wine in the evening.

The latter, even every day, is probably okay. Personally, I love a beer (note the singular) in the evening to unwind. However, the former is less helpful, and as one gets older, becomes increasingly damaging. I can drink quite a bit, and I always have been able to, but I rarely ever do because I feel like garbage the next day, and it's gotten worse as I've grown older. Graduate school is too intense of an experience to muddle up one's health. 

I think the most important thing is just to be mindful of one's actions and maintain a practical level of self-criticism. If you need to stop drinking altogether, then stop.

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I think it definitely depends on how you deal with stress. I found I drink far less in grad school than I did in undergrad (which isn't really saying much, as I didn't really drink much in undergrad either). I know that when I do recruitment events, I often bring up that we have a lot of food and alcohol related events. It's not that we drink a lot, it's that these are usually social events that involve student and faculty and attract them with free food and cheap/free alcohol. However, given how much we wine and dine our prospective grad students, I think it definitely can create this idea that everyone in grad school drinks all the time (we've had more than a few interviewees show up hungover to Day 2). As the people before me said, moderation is key. If you think you have a problem, or if you are worried you may develop one, it's okay not to drink. Most social events have other options available and nobody will think less of you for doing so.

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I've actually never enjoyed the taste of alcohol, so my drinking has always been minor (once every few months on average). However, last year some liver damage showed up in my bloodwork (unrelated to drinking, obviously) and, until that clears up, I'm not allowed to drink at all. I still go to happy hour and the bars with my cohort though, because it's bonding time for the group. I just get water/soda/or something and no one questions it. The only time I felt left out from not drinking was at a conference and it was because it wasn't going out to drink, but hanging out and drinking so I felt like the odd one out for having a ginger ale while everyone else was drinking. Ultimately, it wasn't that bad though. I guess I'm glad that, overall, my department seems to have a good group of students that understand moderation. We're more the "drink while talking/hanging out" crew than the "let's have a party woohoo!" crew. :D 

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I'm not trying to be a jerk, but I find it a bit ironic that those drinking regularly are saying things like, "I drink to deal with the stress.".   Perhaps grad school is so stressful because you are doing it whilst regularly consuming a depressant that influences your neurobiology.  I say this based on experience.  Stop drinking for a while and you will quickly learn that most who complain about the difficulty of grad school are making it more difficult by drinking regularly and managing their time badly.

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7 hours ago, justinhayes1982 said:

I'm not trying to be a jerk, but I find it a bit ironic that those drinking regularly are saying things like, "I drink to deal with the stress.".   Perhaps grad school is so stressful because you are doing it whilst regularly consuming a depressant that influences your neurobiology.  I say this based on experience.  Stop drinking for a while and you will quickly learn that most who complain about the difficulty of grad school are making it more difficult by drinking regularly and managing their time badly.

I agree whole heartedly. Drinking may temporarily relieve stress but it adds on to your stress levels on the long term. Above all, it's not sustainable 

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I find social drinking in graduate school to be highly enjoyable, as long as it's practiced in moderation (I go out with my cohort for a "stammtisch" about once every two weeks). Unfortunately unless there's alcohol involved, it seems very difficult for many Ph.D students to talk about anything besides their research, and I personally dislike working hard on research all day and then going out at night to talk more about my research :blink: I think that alcohol is a poor stress reliever but an important social lubricant, especially among a group of sometimes awkward and singleminded people who have a hard time making friendly small talk about their personal lives/politics/etc. I think it's really important for graduate students to take complete time off to socialize without talking about work, and since many of us have our core group of friends in the department (such as myself), anything that helps us get our minds off research, just every once in a while, is a good thing. 

That being said, there are several alcohol abusers in my department who are suffering from the culture of drinking, especially the free alcohol available at colloquia and other talks and presentations. Most of them are trying to cut back in some way, and I really applaud their efforts - it's incredibly hard to turn down free wine when everyone else is indulging. 

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On 10/3/2016 at 11:33 PM, klader said:

I don't (think I) suffer from alcoholism, but I do drink way more than I did during undergrad and perhaps am a bit concerned. Every weekend a group of us goes out and I drink a LOT and get pretty intoxicated. It's become a ritual, really, and people have already dubbed me as "the drinker" of the group. 

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