April is National Alcohol Awareness Month
As a clinician on a college campus, I witness students struggling with many stressors. College is typically an exciting, hopeful period for students, but change of any kind is inherently stressful—even if it is a positive change. Young adults are away from home for the first time and separated from their support system of friends and family. They are less bound by the rigidity of high school and must learn to structure themselves and manage their time. They are plunged into an unfamiliar environment with strange cafeteria food, unfamiliar roommates, and new demands and expectations. Our culture romanticizes college and doesn’t always acknowledge the difficult challenges facing college students. Young adults are at an extremely vulnerable time in their lives and need to develop healthy coping skills for managing stress.
At a time when their coping skills are challenged as never before, young adults are also experimenting with adult beahviors like sex and drinking. Obviously, people drink for a variety of reasons. Sometimes students simply cave to peer pressure or try a drink because they are curious. Alcohol is legal, more socially acceptable than other drugs, and lacks the stigma associated with illegal drugs (even for those underage). Also, kids are inundated by the aggressive marketing campaigns of companies hoping to create the next generation of customers. Whatever the precise reason, teenagers without adequate coping skills are vulnerable to these pressures and may abuse alcohol.
In his March 30th post, Dr. Meyers discussed talking to your children about drugs and alcohol. It is important to continue the discussion even after they turn 18 and leave for college. Parents need to educate themselves about alcohol and communicate to their kids that alcohol is a mood altering depressant drug. Additionally, young adults sometimes don't consider the possible negative consequences associated with alcohol abuse, which include: sexual assault, drunk driving, interpersonal problems, public misconduct, accidents…the list goes on and on. It is important for us to enlighten young adults regarding alcohol's affect on judgement, motor skills, and inhibitions. We also need to model responsible behavior.
Many college students feel that binge drinking, which is drinking more than four drinks in a sitting, is the norm for their age group. While some students do drink, it is important for adults to correct misperceptions about alcohol use and abuse. Misperceptions recalibrate the norm and distort reality. As a parent, it is important to share your values and expectations with your child. It may not always seem to be the case, but even teenagers consider their parents' opinion valuable.
Alcohol abuse is not unique to a particular university. It is a problem that affects every college in America and reflects our broader culture. Because alcohol is ubiquitous, we risk becoming desensitized to its potential impact on young lives. Bringing awareness to the issue is the first step in creating a cultural change on our college campuses.