I drank sometimes in high school like most teenagers, and in college, I started drinking more. I’d have a few shots sometimes on weekdays and weeknights, sometimes in class. Sometimes it was by myself, sometimes in front of my friends. On weekends I would drink more, like a pretty normal college student. Sometimes I drink because of stress but it really doesn’t feel like a consistent coping mechanism. One weekend, I had to be taken to the ER for alcohol poisoning. To me, it just seemed like I just drank too much too quickly but a counselor asked me if my drinking was related to feelings of depression.

I explained that ever since my sophomore year of high school, I would have episodes where I felt really down, irritable, fatigued, worthless, kind of pathetic, incompetent, and apathetic to almost everything. Sometimes I would cut myself, or drink, or smoke, or some combination of the three. On a couple occasions, I contemplated suicide. But outside of these episodes, I felt normal range of emotions. Sometimes these episodes are caused by stress, sometimes they just pop up out of the blue. It takes a couple days or weeks for me to pull myself together. After the episode, I feel kind of ashamed and pathetic. I tell myself that I overreacted and was being dramatic, maybe even attention seeking (I never actively feel the need for attention and I never told anyone about these episodes before).

Sometimes I have suicidal thoughts outside of the episodes of deep sadness. They occur a lot more frequently but they feel really casual: like what if I jumped off this bridge or out this window or onto the train tracks. What if I overdosed on Tylenol or hung myself with my Christmas lights. These suicidal contemplations are different than the ones during the episodes. They feel like urges or impulses more than reactions to deep-rooted feelings. I don’t know if that’s normal.

It feels like I convinced myself that I had some form of depression and now I’m convinced that I’m perfectly fine. In the moment my symptoms feel extremely real but after the episode, they feel kind of fake. Deep down, I don’t know why I like to drink, I don’t know why I have these episodes, I don’t know why I think about suicide. It feels like I don’t know my own true feelings.

A. I’m not certain of your exact question so my response will be general. You seem unhappy. You have suicidal thoughts. Wanting to die is not normal. You drink excessively and could have died from alcohol poisoning. Drinking seems to be your way of coping with unpleasant emotions and life problems.

Many people believe that partying in college is “normal.” It is for some but not for most. Some of those that drink have faced serious, life-altering consequences as a result. Anecdotally, correlated with drinking and partying, stories abound about sexual assaults, rapes, being drugged, and the like. Every year, a number of students die from an overconsumption of drugs or alcohol. For those who choose to participate in the party lifestyle, it is rare to make it out unscathed. Once you find alcohol to be an effective drug for stress relief or as a mood enhancer, it is difficult to control and most often leads to an addiction.

If you have the power to stop drinking, then do it. If you don’t have that power, then by definition you are addicted and you must get professional help.

If you can stop, join a club on campus. Also, there are volunteer opportunities at local organizations. You could job shadow someone in the field in which you want to work. These types of activities would be meaningful and could help your emotional well being and reduce or eliminate your desire for alcohol. They would also move you closer towards your ultimate goal of getting a job after graduation.

Another important consideration is that alcohol is a nervous system depressant. If you’re drinking because of depression, alcohol only makes it worse. It’s common for people who are depressed to drink. It’s an easy way to forget about one’s problems, but only temporarily.

The solution to this problem is counseling. There you can explore what might be wrong and what is motivating your drinking or desire to die. You can also learn more appropriate and healthier coping skills.

One final observation. You might be minimizing these problems. That might be why you sometimes judge your symptoms as fake. There is nothing “fake” about suicidal ideation or being taken to the emergency room for alcohol poisoning. You could have died. That’s evidence of the seriousness of this issue and it should not be taken lightly. A good therapist will assist you in correcting these issues. The college counseling center might be a good place to start. For longer-term counseling, the counseling center staff can refer you to a local therapist. Good luck.

Dr. Kristina Randle