UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Current college culture allows for an environment where risks of addiction and alcohol dependency increase while mental health decreases.
According to an American Psychological Association report, there is a rising number of students grappling with mental health problems. Similar to the data seen at Penn State’s Counseling and Psychological Services, the most common of the disorders seen in students are depression, anxiety, suicidal, ideation, alcohol abuse, eating disorders, and self-injury. According to a 2010 National Survey of Counseling Center Directors, 45.7 percent have reported an increased number of clients struggling with alcohol abuse.
Many students believe that they deserve a night out after a long week of classes. While a night out may be in fact what they deserve, the definition of a night out may need to be reexamined. Many college students see alcohol as a release and neglect to understand the negative effects binge drinking has on everyone, mentally and physically.
Linda LaSalle, associate director of educational services at the Student Health Center, challenges students, especially those graduating this spring, to think differently and break out of the mindset that this is their last chance to have fun.
“Students turn to alcohol as a stress reliever, but alcohol dependency can create more stressful problems,” LaSalle said. “Students should think more creatively in an effort to find other activities that make them happy while also acting as a stress reliever.”
Stephen Shetler, an addiction specialist with the Student Health Center, suggests students brainstorm a list of activities that they get enjoyment from that don’t involve alcohol, and the next time they need stress relief, partake in one of those activities instead.
“However, many people have ‘positive’ experiences while drinking, so the behavior continues,” Shetler said.
According to LaSalle, “Students are using this substance in high levels without really knowing how negative the effects can be.”
Alcohol is a depressant, which many of us often forget because of the initial euphoric effects. But alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, slowing down both the heart and the brain.
LaSalle emphasized the fact that alcohol is an addictive substance, and many students forget that. Many college students have said, “It’s not alcoholism if the behavior stops after college.” But what if, by the time graduation rolls around, the damage is done, the patterns are formed and the addiction is well on its way to making you or your friend dependent on alcohol?
Shetler says that not all binge drinkers are alcoholics, but all alcoholics are binge drinkers. Most think that their binge-drinking ways will stop after college and they will change their habits. However, the issue is some of them don’t, and even experts have no simple way of predicting who those few will be.
“It’s best to exert control early on so students don’t form any alcoholic tendencies,” Shetler said.
After undergrad, drinking becomes more of a conduit for social gathering; no one wants the habits formed during college to prohibit them from mingling with coworkers or meeting new people.
“Seniors are about to embark on an exciting new part of life — don’t let anything get in the way of it,” LaSalle said.
Both Shetler and LaSalle understand that this issue poses an uphill battle among student audiences. Shetler posed the rhetorical question: “How do we, if not prevent binge drinking all together, help binge drinkers avoid developing alcohol dependence?” They both are asking students to look at and understand the bigger picture.
If any students are worried about themselves or someone close to them having issues with control or dependency, availability of help after graduation may be more difficult to find, but while they are still at Penn State, it’s easy. Visit studentaffairs.psu.edu/health/ for more information.