The Main Reasons Why Alcohol & Drugs Will Affect Your Academic Performance… Badly

I drink too much. Last time I gave a urine sample, it had an olive in it.”

– Rodney Dangerfield, U.S. comedian

Ask your parents if they drank too much alcohol during their time at college, and their replies will vary somewhere between the complete, swear-on-the-Holy-Bible and God’s honest truth kind of answer, and the blatant, downright lie. Ask them if they did drugs, however, and, chances are, pretty much all those responses would probably get thrown out in a court of law, with the judge threatening contempt.

Hey, Mom, you ever get stoned? Were you a pothead in college, Dad?

Not the conversation to be had at the evening dinner table at the end of a long day, unless your Mom and Dad are going through a period of enlightened California-style parenting. For many parents of kids in college, it wasn’t that they drank or did drugs during their time. It’s more a case of they got through college in spite of them. Perhaps, just like what you’re doing.

I’ll be honest. College, when I was younger, was a blur. My memory of it now is just a retail collection of moments like old polaroids – putting them together in some semblance of order is the problem.

Allow me to introduce myself.

My name is Andy, I’m a mid-thirties digital marketing entrepreneur, running a successful agency, who, for over 9 years now, has lived a completely clean and sober life. No alcohol, no drugs, no nada. Just abstinence.

However, for the vast majority of my adolescent years, I was an alcoholic and a drug addict, saved only my own Mom and Dad finally threw me on the backseat of the family car, drove me to the next state over, and deposited what was left of their son, hopeless addict, physical and mental wreck, and an ex-con to boot, on the steps of a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.

Get busy living, Andy, and all that. So I did, and I gave rehab everything.

6 months later, I emerged, clean, sober, physically and mentally the fittest I’d ever been or felt, and now with a decent education. I had majored in addiction, and in rehab, I learned as much as I could about this chronic, sometimes fatal disease that nearly took my life – it’s amazing what you can do with a clear head.

If you want to know how drugs and alcohol will negatively affect your academic performance, read on. If you’re reading this, and thinking, “You know what, Andy? You seem like a nice guy, and I’m glad you turned your life around, and all that. To be honest, though, I don’t really care,” then what follows will make you care.

Let’s look at the 2 most popular substances used, and often abused, on any U.S. campus, and why they will affect your academic performance… badly:

  • Alcohol, and
  • Marijuana

The intoxication from both will continue to have a detrimental effect on a student’s cognitive function – primarily, attention, concentration, and memory – for around 48 hours afterward. In other words, get drunk on the Friday night, because you’ve got exams on Monday to study for, and the weekend is your only revision time left, and you’ve just shot your academic self in the foot.

Serious abuse of both can lead to the spiral of addiction, and I’m sure you don’t want to have that conversation with Mom and Dad…

Alcohol

Memory: As described above, heavy drinking will affect cognitive function long after you wake up with the obligatory hangover, and will probably mean you start the day with a positive blood alcohol level as well as your pounding head. This alcohol still present in your system directly affects your ability to process and store new information – to fully understand it, and then to successfully retain it in its entirety.

For the biology students out there, “intoxication is produced by a temporary impairment of brain receptors key in creating long-term memories in the hippocampus“, says Duke University’s Jeff Georgi, an Alcohol and Addictions Program coordinator at the school. “If you study for four hours…then go drinking, it affects this anchoring process.”

Sleep: Alcohol messes with your sleep too. Normal sleep cycle interference results in irritability, fatigue, and an increase in anxiety, all of which will directly affect a student’s learning ability for up to 48 hours.

Stress: As the old joke goes, alcohol is only a solution if you’re a chemist. In reality, alcohol doesn’t stop stress, or “academic success-anxiety,” just the symptoms of it – temporarily. By actually not self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, you are giving yourself a far better chance to naturally resolve what is causing the stress.

Marijuana

Memory, Concentration, & Attention: As described above, marijuana use (well, pretty much all drug use) will affect cognitive function long after you wake up, directly affecting your ability to simply pay attention and, indeed, concentrate in the classroom, and then being able to store that information in your memory.

Sleep: When used in the evening and at night time, marijuana is pretty much the same as alcohol when it comes to your sleep cycle, resulting in increases in irritability, fatigue, and anxiety, again, directly affecting learning ability. 

Motivation: Now, if you’re sat there reading this, and you’re a little surprised by the use of the word “motivation,” oh, please… Seriously, there is mounting evidence that marijuana use affects your motivation, likely due to a combination neuronal suppression (the hippocampus, again), the blocking of nutrients through cells, and fatigue following disturbed sleep.

Anxiety: Although not an academic reason, it’s worth mentioning that marijuana use increases heart rate, weakens the heart muscle, and increases blood pressure – all of which should concern someone already diagnosed with anxiety. However, as with self-medicating with alcohol, marijuana does nothing to resolve the issues creating your anxiety and stress.

No Lecture

There you have them – the main reasons why alcohol and drugs will affect your academic performance… badly. Forego the alcohol consumption (if you’re binge drinking, and college students have been known to do that on a regular basis, please cut it out of your life – it’s seriously dangerous), and forego getting stoned in the belief it will only do you good. You’ll feel better, and perform better academically without them.

Without these substances, you’ll feel so much better, you’ll be naturally happier, you’ll be more attentive, you’ll be able to concentrate fully, and you’ll enjoy a better memory. As a college student striving for academic success, it makes sense, doesn’t it?

How does alcohol or marijuana use affect your academic performance, or do you believe it doesn’t? Let us know by sharing a comment below.

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