Hope and help for college students who drink alcohol

By Lance Sabado

“The man takes a drink, the drink takes a drink, the drink takes the man.”

Japanese proverb

Alison Keolanui drank for the first time in elementary school. What started off as way to escape the reality of family life and school, ended up being an enduring struggle and addiction with alcohol. Today, she has checked into rehab for the 12th time.

The truth about college drinking

Hayden Carter, 21, took his first drink of alcohol when he stole a bottle of whiskey from his parents’ liquor cabinet. Now, he says that college life is all about drinking and partying. Photo taken by: Adriana Bandy

According to a college drinking prevention website, over 1,800 college students (ages 18-24) in America die each year from alcohol-related incidents.  And although this statistic is telling of the ultimate short-term consequences of alcohol use, the statistic does not reflect the long-term consequences that alcohol use can have on college students.  In fact, they only give a glimpse of what is going on.

“There is a grave concern with the college drinking population now,” explains University of Hawai‘i at Manoa Health Promotions Chair Kristen Scholly. “What you’re seeing more so now is binge drinking, and sometimes that leads to addiction. The binge drinkers are the ones you have to worry about. They’re usually good students who go to school in the week and then drink heavily on the weekend.” reports that binge drinking was once defined as drinking a lot over several days. But now binge drinking is commonly and specifically defined as “the consumption of four or more drinks by women or the consumption of five or more drinks by men.”

However, Scholly says that most of UH Manoa’s alcohol use numbers fall well below the National College Health Assessment’s (NCHA) survey norms. Every other year, UH Manoa undergraduate college students participate in the NCHA survey to find out how much alcohol use among other things there is. Here is a chart that shows alcohol use statistics of UH Manoa students versus college students across the country in the 2010 spring semester:


Alcohol Use

UH Manoa undergrad students (%)

U.S. undergrad students average (%)

Never used



Used, but not in the last 30 days



Used daily in the last 30 days



*You can visit the Manoa Alcohol Project (MAP) website or NCHA website for more numbers and statistics*

Even if UH Manoa students are to be commended for their less than normal use of alcohol, Scholly adds that we still need to take note of the daily-use statistic. “This is an extreme on the continuum, but there is a 1.5 percent of the student population that use alcohol every day. That could indicate addiction.”

In light of these statistics of alcohol use, the following people have deeply and personally felt the effects of high-risk and excessive drinking. They share their lifelong dealings and experiences with alcohol through stories of struggles, tales of triumph and words of wisdom — in hopes that they will inspire college students to refrain from drinking or to at least drink safely, wisely and in moderation.

Extreme alcohol consumption consumes a life

At 46 years old, Alison Keolanui is still fighting and failing in her battle with alcohol addiction. After 11 times in alcohol and drug rehab, over 10 incarcerations related to alcohol use, four major suicide attempts while under the influence of alcohol and one miscarriage from an alcohol-induced domestic violence incident, she still struggles with what she considers to be the most addictive of all the substances that she’s tried.

“Alcohol is a drug; the problem is that it’s legal,” says Keolanui. “I walk past it every day in a supermarket. It’s so easy. I want to get as much of it as I can. I drink at least a liter every day.”

Keolanui started drinking at 10 years old when she was offered a beer by an uncle. She took a sip and was immediately hooked. Because of problems at school and at home, she kept drinking since “it seemed like the natural way out.” This compounded with the need to feel love and acceptance from something or someone. “I felt like I didn’t get any praise or support from my family,” says Keolanui. “Also, there was violence at home.  I needed the alcohol to numb myself from everything that was happening.”

Today, because of Keolanui’s excessive alcohol use, she suffers from manic depression and was recently diagnosed with Hepatitis C. She takes anti-depressant medications for her depression and chemotherapy drugs for her Hepatitis. At the time of this interview, she was at Castle Medical Center for behavior therapy and then moved to an unnamed drug and alcohol rehab home.

At last, she says about her alcohol use, “People don’t understand that alcohol addiction is a disease. I’ve been drinking for most of my life. It’s not something I can just quit.”

Alcoholics Anonymous marks the rebirth of one woman

For Kelley B., who didn’t want her name used, the pressure of law school, family life and a new move to California led her to drink when she was 26 years old.

“That was a lethal combination at the time,” says Kelley B. “I left my husband and daughter, dropped out of school and moved in with a heavy drinking crowd.  I did as little as possible and tried to avoid my parents. I drank heavily and did that for 15 years.”

When Kelley turned 40 years old, she decided to get a part-time, seasonal job because she thought, “I’ve got to do better than this.” This was the beginning of a turnaround for her.  Through her job she was able to meet some sober alcoholics and decided to change her living situation.  She didn’t know that they were sober alcoholics at the time, but she knew that the people were nice and that she could trust them.

“I broke up with the person I had been living with for ten years,” says Kelley. I was on my own for the first time ever. I realized I was losing my friends and the only friends I had were the sober alcoholics.”

Kelley adds, “One night, I was with my sober alcoholic friend and I blacked out from drinking, which is something I don’t recall happening a whole lot. I realized that if I continued to do that I would have no friends left. It also occurred to me that if I quit drinking my life could only improve. “

So she called her sober alcoholic friends and they recommended that she go to an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting and get the AA books. After attending the meetings, she also decided to see a therapist, which she very much needed at the time.

She explains, “Once the alcohol was done, all the anxiety returned. They call alcohol addiction a progressive disease, because the disease goes on without you — as if you were still using.  I was struck with these enormous anxiety attacks, which was the reason why I started drinking in the first place.”

From there, though, she met a friend who got her back into practicing law and today she is a semi-retired lawyer. Also, she met a man at an AA meeting who she lived with for five years and then later married. They’ve been married now for 21 years. This week her husband will make 30 years sober and Kelley will make 28 years sober in June.

She says about her sobriety, “I didn’t do it. The AA program did it. The AA steps are powerful.  It’s a spiritual program and they teach you to believe in something — and it really doesn’t matter what it is. AA taught me that I can’t be the center of the universe, because my decisions aren’t so hot anymore. They get you into trusting the group, trusting God, the process or just trusting something.”

Future looks promising for alcohol use and prevention

According to local Clinical Psychologist Dr. Graham Taylor, the good news is that there are some really good alcohol treatment programs and opportunities out there and that public education is doing the best they can to teach about overall alcohol use.

Taylor says about alcohol use in general, “Alcohol is a slippery slope. It’s the most accessible and socially acceptable drug. When we start using it for sleep, coping or stress relief, it really has the potential to become addictive. The addiction is a subtle process. You start using more and more and there’s a tolerance you build and want a stronger high or effect.”

Taylor also points out that people should be very careful if alcohol becomes an addiction. “People who can just play around with alcohol or be social drinkers, that’s OK,” says Taylor.  “But those who have addictive tendencies and behavior, or have alcohol in their families should get treatment or professional help — the sooner the better. Alcohol will take over and affect every area of your life.”

Nevertheless, Scholly says that college drinking isn’t as bad as people might think. “There’s this myth that everyone on college campuses are drinking to excess and engaging in high-risk behaviors,” says Scholly. “But the numbers do not play that out. The true norm shows that the vast majority of college students are making relatively healthy choices, and if they choose to drink it’s in moderation. We should give the college population more credit than we do.”

All in all, Taylor does not see alcohol use as a bad thing. He says, “If it’s used in moderation, it’s OK.  It’s just watching where that fine line is. “

Scholly adds, “No one’s saying that alcohol is bad. You just don’t want alcohol to be the reason you didn’t graduate or reach your professional goals. It’s just not worth it.”