There is a huge pile of college gear sitting on my living room floor. In two weeks, my daughter begins her freshman year. College is definitely on my mind which is why my eye caught an article in the Wall Street Journal this morning. The article is entitled Campus Life 101: Staying Sober and addresses the growing problem of substance abuse on college campuses. The focus of the article was on the efforts of a few major universities establishing substance abuse recovery programs.
According to the article, students ages 18-24 are the fastest growing demographic of Americans seeking treatment for substance abuse. The highest use of alcohol (five or more drinks on five or more occasions within a month) are Americans ages 20-22 at college campuses. During the first decade of the millennium, students seeking substance abuse help more than doubled compared with older Americans (SAMHSA). One consequence of increased substance abuse on campuses is increasing drop out rates due to addiction.
Bottom line, college is a difficult place to stay sober. The idea of a developing a recovery community on campuses is a positive move, but my concern is that colleges are addressing symptoms not causes. To tackle the problem, one has to look at the causes of increased substance abuse and fix those.
Here are 10 underlying issues that come to mind:
1) President Emeritus, Donald Harward, of Bates College in Maine believes that substance abuse is a symptom of students not being engaged in academic or civil life on campus.
2) Surveys indicate that students use substances to relax, deal with stress or escape problems.
3) The college environment promotes drinking behaviors (NIAAA).
4) Many college students believe that their peers drink more than they actually do. The belief that “everyone is doing it” and drinking is acceptable leads to increased use (NIAAA).
5) Movies about college glorify drinking and partying as if these are a right of passage (National Lampoon’s Animal House, Old School, etc).
6) Media, in general, glorifies drinking and escaping through substances.
7) Substance abuse can be prompted by poor coping skills when it comes to handling academic pressure.
8) Students who have difficulty adjusting to transitions, leaving home and balancing social and academic life are at risk for substance abuse.
9) College administrators have given up trying to control their communities and take a “hands off” approach.
10) Students who have untreated mental health issues like depression and anxiety can medicate through substances.
While I applaud the few universities trying to address treatment of substance abuse problems on their campuses, the real need is to address the underlying causes. In order to take the “high” out of higher education, we have to address the social, emotional and spiritual problems that lead a person to escape and avoid through substance abuse.