UW-Madison junior Caitlin Kammerait faces increased levels of stress during the week, constantly dreading the next paper or the next exam. However, she has found a stress remedy that seems to work: alcohol.
""To be able to go out on Wednesday and Thursday is nice because you can forget about some of the pressures of the week,"" Kammerait said.
Kammerait is not alone in this solution to stress. The terms ""Tipsy Tuesdays,"" ""Wasted Wednesdays"" and ""Thirsty Thursdays"" have become common lingo on campus, as weekday partying appears to be the norm for many UW-Madison college students.
Unless UW-Madison students are able to relieve stress in less harmful ways, these drinking habits will damage an undeveloped brain and increase stress levels even more, UW-Madison professor of physiology Dr. Kevin Strang said. According to Strang, drinking to relieve stress is not as simple and harmless as it seems.
Alcohol's effects on students' schoolwork can be more permanent than a hangover.
There are about 100 billion nerve cells in the brain that are interconnected at synapses, Strang explained. The synapses, where the brain's functions occur, are rapidly developing in young people. Synapses grow fastest in an embryo and slow down as a person gets older. Twenty-one years old is the average age for the brain to finish growing.
Ethanol, the potentially harmful drug in a margarita or glass of beer, affects the proteins located at these synapses. According to Strang, when a person drinks alcoholic beverages while the synapses are still growing, he or she can actually damage the fundamental structure of the nervous system. Binge drinking does even more damage to this growth process.
According to Strang, if students do not sleep between studying and drinking, they will likely not retain the information because that is when the brain sorts information. Sleep is necessary to turn short-term memory into long-term memory, Strang said.
Not only do many students turn to alcohol for stress relief, some also drink copious amounts of it when they go out drinking. Binge drinking, typically four or more drinks in a row, has been identified as a major public health problem among college students, according to the U.S. surgeon general and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
""I have two to three shots before I go out on Wednesdays, and then since it is beer and shot night at the KK, I end up having about six drinks at the bar,"" UW-Madison sophomore Carrie Robinson said, adding that going out helps break up her week.
Robinson says that this is the typical amount of alcohol that her friends drink two to three nights a week.
""Drinking during the week absolutely puts me behind in schoolwork because my next day is ruined,"" UW-Madison senior Danny Rivers said, adding that every time he goes out during the week he gets drunk.
Kammerait agrees, admitting that although drinking helps her escape the stress of school, it loses its benefit if she wakes up with a hangover.
In addition to affecting the nervous system, alcohol also exaggerates the present state of emotions and the focus of one's thoughts, Strang said.
""Drinking after a workout is the best feeling,"" UW-Madison junior Richard Stalle said. ""The endorphins from exercising plus the addition of alcohol give me the best buzz.""
Although Strang pointed out that alcohol can be relaxing and stress-relieving, he emphasizes that this is true only under certain circumstances.
""Alcohol is a focusing agent,"" Strang said, adding that an intoxicated person's mind will likely focus on only one emotion at a time, resulting in a stronger emotion than usual.
Anxiety and stress will be heightened with the addition of alcohol, as will other emotions. Alcohol myopia, or the tendency of alcohol to reduce awareness of events which are distant and increase a person's concentration upon immediate events, is the reason for this heightened emotion.
The combination of the context of the situation and myopia block the parts of the brain that control memories, reassurances, strategizing capabilities and personality. Those windows are reduced to only one window, the one you are externally or internally thinking about, Strang said.
As students continue to devote more days to drinking, expanding the Thirsty Thursday phenomenon, they continue to depress their motor skills, sensory skills, and memory formation, according to Strang.
""There is a very good reason why the drinking age is 21,"" he said.