Your recovery starts with a simple phone call or email
We Can Help, Call Now: 602.903.2999

Addiction and Recovery Blog

Anxiety, Exams, and College Drinking

Anxiety, Exams, and College Drinking

Drinking alcohol remains a serious issue because it is so prevalent in America’s colleges and universities. Frequent heavy drinking puts young people at risk for developing an alcohol use disorder. It can also have negative effects on academic performance and increase the risk of being injured or victimized.

While most young people who drink, do so when partying with friends, some college students drink to ease the anxiety associated with college exams. This form of self-medication can be even more dangerous than experimenting with alcohol for fun. The stress that college students often feel around exam time is compounded by other, related problems and these add up to the motivations for drinking. Unfortunately, there are several associated risks.  We would like to contrast that with some healthy, drug-free ways to ease stress during college exams.

The Stress of College Exams


Exam stress is a real thing
that happens to many students. And, it’s understandable why it happens. So much of your grade relies on a single test score. If you fail your test, you could fail your class. Not only do you have to worry about the embarrassment of failing a test, but also having to retake the class. Credit hours can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, and the last thing you want is to throw money out the window. This adds more stress on top of exam stress.


In addition, you may rely on scholarships, grants or financial aid to make college more affordable. If you don’t maintain a certain GPA, you could lose this money and have to pull out of school. Also, participating in extracurricular activities and holding certain titles among these organizations often require a certain GPA. Now the stress has multiplied exponentially.


While it’s normal to feel some anxiety surrounding a big test, exam stress is a bit more pronounced. Common symptoms of exam stress are:

  • Excessive worry about the upcoming exam. You might have trouble sleeping or eating because of the worry you are feeling.
  • Imagining catastrophic consequences. If you don’t do well on the test, you might imagine yourself facing the worst of the worst, such as having to drop out of college.
  • Irrational thinking, beliefs and demands. You might place too much pressure on yourself, such as expecting yourself to get a perfect score.
  • Feeling little control over the situation. Instead of taking control and believing in yourself, you might feel that the odds are stacked against you.
  • Physical effects. Stress has physical symptoms as well, such as headaches, upset stomachs, shortness of breath and racing thoughts. If you experience these symptoms around your exams, test anxiety may be to blame.


Exam stress can happen to anyone, but it is more likely to happen to students who have had bad testing experiences, have a lack of self-confidence, are afraid of failing, are perfectionists or cannot study because of extreme anxiety. If any of this sounds like you, you could be at a higher risk for exam stress.

When Alcohol Looks Attractive – But is Not

With so much worry and anxiety, some students turn to alcohol to ease exam stress. Alcohol is a depressant, which means it slows the central nervous system. This can make you feel more relaxed and less stressed because both your psychological and physical activity are decreased.

Unfortunately, drinking alcohol to relieve test anxiety can often have the opposite effect. Alcohol makes it difficult to study for an exam, causing you to potentially do worse. If you have a bad test taking experience, it could set you into a depression and cause you to rely on alcohol even more.

Research shows that high-risk drinking negatively impacts class attendance and time spent studying. High-risk drinking is also related to lower semester grades. When students are hungover after drinking, it’s harder for them to make it to class the next day. In fact, the heaviest drinkers have the lowest grades. Bottom line: drinking to ease exam stress is never a good idea and can make things worse.

In addition to the relationship between alcohol and poor academic performance, you are also more at risk for:

  • Injury. The higher your blood alcohol level is, the greater the chance for being injured. Each year, roughly 600,000 college students injure themselves because of drinking.
  • Victim of assault. People who are drinking are more vulnerable because alcohol lowers their inhibitions. Therefore, you have a greater risk of becoming a victim of assault.
  • Criminal activity. Drinking alcohol makes you more likely to engage in criminal activity, such as driving drunk or getting in a fight. This activity can result in fines and jail time, as well as the loss of a scholarship or grant.
  • Health issues. Students who drink heavily often begin to see health effects, though they can take some time to develop. Some of the first symptoms include liver damage, high blood pressure, obesity and inflammation.


Instead of Drinking, Try This…

It’s important to know that test anxiety is normal and happens to many students in both high school and college. The symptoms do not need alcohol, even though it may appear to be a quick fix. Unfortunately, drinking when you feel anxious before an exam can cause you to do worse or perhaps even miss the exam entirely! Plus, you are setting yourself up to rely on alcohol every time you feel stressed or anxious about something.

Instead of drinking to feel relaxed, here are some ways to combat exam anxiety:

  • Listen to classical music. Elevate your mood and increase your attention span by listening to classical music. Most students have a smartphone, and you can play these light tunes directly from there.
  • Take a quick walk. Taking a walk can boost memory and brain power. Take a quick walk around your building or campus to refresh and recharge. Also, take study breaks that involve getting outdoors for fresh air and light activity.
  • Plan a study routine. It helps to have a routine because this makes you feel more in control. Create a study plan that works for you based on your study habits and attention span. Try the GoConqr study planner app to manage your time and take control of your learning.
  • Get enough rest. Sleep helps repair and recharge your brain. Getting enough sleep also improves memory, concentration and focus. By managing your time, you can avoid pulling an all-nighter.
  • Unwind with a mobile app. There are mobile apps for everything these days, so download a few of your favorites to use during your study breaks. We recommend time management games, strategy games and de-stress apps.
  • Eat dark chocolate. Lastly, keep some dark chocolate stashed in your dorm room. Cocoa reduces cortisol in the body, helping to fight exam stress. It also has an overall relaxing effect on the body and is a nice treat to have in the middle of studying.




Even though alcohol is often considered part of the college experience, using it as a coping mechanism for exam stress is not a healthy choice. This can quickly lead to dependency and poor academic performance. Steer clear of alcohol when studying, and instead try one of the tips listed above. If you need to talk to someone, reach out for help from a friend, family member or campus counselor. Most people can relate to test anxiety and point you in the direction of healthier coping strategies.

In Network With
We Work with Most Major Insurance Companies
Verify Your Insurance Here

Continuum Recovery Center BBB Business Review GPCC Logo