Many students enter college for their first year believing that this new environment has a completely different set of rules. They see this as a time in their lives to exert independence and try new things that were forbidden while living at home or as a time to experience life to its fullest. Decisions about alcohol use can be a slippery slope for many of our students who assume they can make good decisions while under the influence. Young adults feel invincible, as many of us did at their age, and can’t imagine that substances could alter their thinking, emotions, and actions in a negative way. While most students make the choice to drink at some point in college, what they are drinking and how much is important. While one drink might seem to create a positive feeling, three or more (depending on the person) can result in impaired judgement and decision-making.
Addiction, as defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, is characterized by an inability to abstain, impaired behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Students may not perceive the potential for addiction. Often addiction is not the problem in and of itself, but rather the solution to a deeper problem. Substances are a way to numb, escape, mask, and/or avoid their emotional and/or physical pain. Students can also use substances to heighten and intensify their experiences. The consequences and repercussions of these behaviors are often not considered and the root of the problems never explored.
How does one guide their students heading off to college about drinking? For starters, we should follow the laws related to the drinking age and model responsible drinking behavior ourselves (e.g., consume alcohol moderately and don’t drive after drinking). Discuss peer pressure and ways to fight against it like having a buddy that has the same belief and value system and adopt the “pack mentality” which means stick together and have each other’s back. Alternate alcoholic beverages with non-alcoholic ones. Avoid situations that make it difficult to resist and always have an exit strategy. Make wise choices before getting yourself in too deep, maintain boundaries (say no) and deal with your personal conflicts/struggles and stress directly through healthy coping strategies. Maintain good physical, emotional, and spiritual health so that you can be in a position of strength and security when making tough decisions.