As health educators, we are effective when we trust students to make responsible decisions about alcohol use based on the best available information. Academic hangover: How heavy drinking affects brainpower (click to read) (October 2014) presented the neuroscience of heavy drinking—specifically, the lingering effects that alcohol can have on grades, decision making, and brain development in young adults. The article “made me change my routine, to say the least,” said a male undergraduate from the University of Miami.

Who read Academic hangover and learned from it?

  • In October 2014, around 29,000 student readers provided feedback via our surveys.
  • Seven out of ten respondents said they had read Academic hangover.
  • Of those, 86 percent said they had learned something from it.
  • Thousands of readers cited Academic hangover as their top pick from the October 2014 issue.

Our expert sources:

  • Marisa Silveri, PhD, neuroscientist at McLean Hospital, Belmont, and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
  • Yasmin Mashhoon, PhD, neuroscientist at McLean Hospital, Belmont, Massachusetts, and Harvard Medical School.
  • Dafna Kanny, PhD, senior scientist in the Alcohol Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • For references to relevant medical and scientific literature, see the article (Sources).

Here’s what came through from students’ feedback:

Students respond positively to messaging that is nonjudgmental, relevant, and clearly evidence-based:

  • “It didn’t seem blame-y so I was more inclined to read it.”—Undergraduate, Santa Clara University, California
  • “I liked how they actually use science to explain the effects of alcohol, rather than just saying that it’s bad for you.”— Nontraditional student, Portland State University, Oregon
  • “The science behind the Academic hangover story was great stuff! I forwarded it.” —Undergraduate, University of Winnipeg, Manitoba
  • “I enjoyed Academic hangover because it was interesting, funny, and relatable!”—Nontraditional student, Texas Woman’s University
  • “What caught my attention was how they could relate to the students and really helped us by giving us different options and solutions.” —Nontraditional student, US
  • “The Academic hangover article really touched on my life. I’m sure most students and grads can identify with it, but it was just what I needed to read. Thank you!” —Undergraduate, US

Many students do not relate to the term “binge drinker,” even if their behavior qualifies as binge drinking. This is why SH101 uses “heavy drinker,” a less pejorative term, whenever possible:

  • In a previous survey by SH101 (reported in Academic hangover):
    • 13 percent of respondents self-identified as binge drinkers
    • 8 percent of respondents picked the correct definition of binge drinking from several options
    • 47 percent of respondents acknowledged behavior that met the definition of binge drinking
  • “It was interesting to learn that some drinking habits that appear harmless may actually qualify as binge drinking.”—Undergraduate, University of Wisconsin–Stout

Many students are unaware that alcohol use in early adulthood can affect their academic performance and brain development:

  • “It’s much more intense than I thought.” —Nontraditional student, Monterey Peninsula College, California
  • “I had no clue!”—Undergraduate, University of Alaska
  • “It is the first article that I have seen that broaches this topic.” —Undergraduate, Delaware Valley University
  • “The fact that heavy drinking can damage your test [performance] that same week! Before the article I thought hangovers where done with within a day…. not a whole week of failure. Neat article!” —Student, Tarrant County College, Texas
  • “There were some really interesting and even surprising facts discussed. I was not aware that alcohol can cause GABA deficiencies. Nor did I know that binge drinking can seriously damage long-term memory.”—Nontraditional student, US
  • “The time lapse of how long it takes alcohol to actually leave the system was shocking. I have felt the effects of a hangover and now I understand why.” —Nontraditional student, US
  • “I loved reading Academic hangover, because as someone in recovery and who has studied the brain, I know for certain that alcohol has a lasting effect. Like the article mentioned, sometimes these effects are still causing us trouble well into the week. I was also fascinated to learn that the frontal cortex does not cease development until our mid-twenties, and that disrupting healthy development could change our overall ability to execute decisions and problem solve. Thanks for the articles!”—Nontraditional student, Portland State University, Oregon
  • “This article is really informative in showing it’s not a competition on who can drink the most and the effects from continued use.”—Nontraditional student, Tarrant County College, Texas
  • “Very useful information that I was able to apply and share with the hockey team I coach.”—Student, University of Wisconsin-Parkside

When students understand the effects of alcohol on their learning and brain development, some may decide to moderate their drinking habits:

  • “It changed my perspective on [my] daily actions and how to correct them.” —Undergraduate, Clemson University, South Carolina
  • “I am definitely going to plan my drinking with more thought, [so] as to not jeopardize myself mentally throughout the week!” —Undergraduate, University of New Brunswick
  • “I knew that drinking can alter your brain and its processes, but I never knew how different it would be between a non-drinker/light drinker and a heavy drinker. It makes you second-guess [your] weekend choices.” —Undergraduate, University of Regina, Saskatchewan
  • “I recently stopped drinking (due to medication) but I have noticed my concentration and performance in school increase. I feel better about myself and I keep up with workouts instead of getting sluggish. This information just verified that I am doing the right thing and has turned me away from drinking for good!” —Undergraduate, Trent University, Ontario

It’s always worth letting students know that their peers drink less than they may imagine. This is important, because behavioral research emphasizes the human tendency to match our peers’ behavior:

  • “The Academic hangover article was very great at showing what [level of drinking] students perceive [among their peers] and what they really drink.” —Undergraduate, University of Memphis, Tennessee
  • In 2015, students estimated that 93 percent of their peers had used alcohol in the last 30 days. In contrast, 65 percent of students reported that they had used alcohol in the last 30 days, according to the National College Health Assessment survey (spring 2015).

Finally, readers enjoy having their own observations validated:

  • “[I liked] the fact I didn’t make up the idea of Academic ” —Undergraduate, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
  • “I thought that it was funny because it is so true!” —Undergraduate, Johnson & Wales University, Rhode Island
  • “It explains why I am 44 years old and still pursuing my Masters degree. I was a product of the late 1980s at [a party school]. Need I say more?” —Nontraditional student, US