College can be a wonderful experience in the path to adulthood and social maturity. It is a time of finding identities, gaining the valuable skills and knowledge to succeed in one's career and to make friendships and acquaintances that will carry on through life. Many high school students attend college with the idea of non-stop partying, binge drinking and promiscuous hook-ups in mind before contemplating the academic benefits. Still others go knowing they aspire to higher goals and extensive careers that will require their dedication in their undergraduate studies, relegating social life to the side and focusing on academics. Many students do not know just why they are there except that they have been pressured by their parents and college seems the natural choice after high school graduation. Whatever the reason, all student who attend college find that being at a university brings many stresses and new experiences. The responsibility of being alone and having to make daily decisions without one's parents, the stress of studying and passing courses and the ever going obstacle of discovering who one truly is and what they want out of life are all pressures that need to be dealt with while at a university. It is no wonder then, that the incidence of drinking and drug use escalates in college students when social and academic stresses are at their peak. Nearly half of America's 5.4 million full-time college students abuse drugs or drink alcohol on binges at least once a month, according to a new study that portrays substance and alcohol abuse as an increasingly urgent problem on campuses across the nation (Leinwand, 2007). There should be little worry about this phenomenon though, because after college when these pressures abate and there is no reason for experimentation with illegal drugs or binge drinking, the majority of students clean up on their own and take on the responsibility they have been preparing for: real life.
Students drink excessively and try various drugs in college for three main reasons: academic stress, stress of social responsibility, and stress of self-discovery. Academic stress is the most blatant of the pressures one experiences in college. The hefty tuition costs and the demands of scheduling classes, attending lectures and discussion units and studying to pass exams and write midterms can add up to a pressure many students find they do not have the means of dealing with properly. In some extremes, the stresses of the academic world are so great, students simply can not manage to balance out their academic priorities with everything else in their life and buckle under the pressure. This is where drinking and drug use come in. As a release from these scholastic stresses, students find themselves unwinding on the weekends in equal extremes to the pressures they deal with during the week. Thus huge stresses in class during the week result in large amounts of alcohol and drugs on the weekend. According to various studies, "college students have higher rates of alcohol or drug addiction than the general public: 22.9% of students meet the medical definition for alcohol or drug abuse or dependence - a compulsive use of a substance despite negative consequences - compared with 8.5% of all people 12 and older," (Leinwald, 2007). In another study done examining the reasons for binge drinking, students cited, "Peer pressure & academic stress," (Broman, 2005) as a primary motive for alcohol use. This is because of the unique stresses that only college students have to deal with during this period of their lives. One these stresses have disappeared upon leaving campus life, so too does the need to use alcohol and drugs as an escape.
Social responsibility can also factor a great deal of stress in a student's life during college. Many students find that college is the first experience of living on one's own, away from the comfort and shelter of living with parents. No longer with the conveniences of having groceries bought and meals cooked and with no one residing over daily decisions, many students find themselves suddenly burdened with small tasks they never needed to deal with previously. Chores such as cleaning one's room, doing laundry every week and purchasing personal items such as toiletries or cleaning supplies can be demanding. Having to be responsible for scheduling meetings, returning phone calls and prioritizing tasks for the day can also take its toll. Not to mention finding the time to balance out time for fitness and sports, possibly a job, studying and still leaving time to relax can be exhausting and for many students adds up to a burden they are not ready to carry. Having a drink to relax or smoking a joint can alleviate some of these pressures and keep one from going insane. "A large proportion of college students drinks heavily, an even larger proportion than that of persons of the same age not in college," (Broman, 2005) most likely die to the unique social pressures one experiences while attending university including the stresses of coping with one's environment and balancing out one's social agenda to include daily activities, work and academics as well. The social factors that need to be considered while in college is vastly different from that of a person of the same age and profile but not attending college, evidence which supports the claims that is the special campus environment that breeds the need for drug use as a way to cope with stress in the collegiate world.
College is the time that most students find themselves away from the childhood environment that sheltered them and defined them for so long. Under the care of parents and with the same friends for so long, it was this community that defined a person and said who they were, where they stood and what they ought to believe in. But college brings one far from home in many cases and in a different community wherein one needs to find out who they are and where they stand in the whole of society. It is a time for self definition and this can be very difficult and stressful emotionally and internally. Discovering where one stands on different issues and learning how to cope with social relationships and intimate relationships can be distressing. College is the time most people have their first intimate relationships that are no limited by curfews or restricted by parental supervision. Under this new liberation, intimate relationships can shape themselves very differently and it is up to each person to discern where they feel comfortable and what they want out of life. College shows you who you really are because it is one of the first moments where there is little authority to pressure your decisions. Parents no longer tell you when you need to come home or what time you need to wake up in the morning, no one is there to keep you from drinking 5 drinks in a row or to prohibit you from smoking inside your room. With so much new freedoms, it becomes each individual's responsibility to discover what their standards are and what their character consists of. This pressure can go unnoticed by many college students but for others, it is the most pressing source of stress during this period of one's life.
These main stresses can all influence a student to experiment with binge drinking or illegal drug use in college however all of these pressures are relieved to some degree the moment college ends and with the maturity of the individual. This means that most students end these bad habits after college and although they can be dangerous and even fatal while during college, they have little impact on the everyday lives of students past these years of experimentation. According to the 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings, with marijuana alone, "16.6% of people aged 18-25 used marijuana in the last month with only 4.1% of people aged 26 or over using the drug in the same period." This large discrepancy between the use of marijuana in these different age brackets shows the dominance of the college aged population to use drugs with the percentage dropping sharply after the college years have ended. Although there may be concern over drug use in college students and the safety hazards it poses to both student users and students who do not use drugs, this should not be a concern for impact later in life since the number of people who continue to experiment with binge drinking and illegal drugs declines after college when the stresses of academics and collegiate society are no longer prevalent.
Drug use in college is a normal part of the collegiate experience and a natural way for students to cope with the numerous stresses that being in a university away from home poses. It can not be expected for students to deal with these pressures in the same manners that the non-college population deals with issues because college brings unique pressures that need different forms of coping in order for one to maintain sanity in these important years of social and academic growth. College sets the pace for the careers one pursues and the friends one will keep for most of their lives. It is a time when one figures out where they stand in society and what they can contribute to the human fabric. It is a short moment of finding truths about oneself and the world surrounding that can be both fulfilling and amazing for individual growth. But it can be difficult and there can be times of darkness and stress. For these instances drug use as an outlet to release these pressures is only normal and should be acceptable. There are enough studies to support the diminishing prevalence of drug use after college to hold up the argument that drug experimentation in college is nothing more than a phase used to cope with the unique stresses of campus life.
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Broman, Clifford L.. Stress, race and substance use in college.: An article from: College Student Journal. Chicago: Thomson Gale, 2005.
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Education, U.S. Dept Of. Alcohol and other drug use among college students in New York State findings from a statewide college survey (1996) (SuDoc ED 1.310/2:443352). New York: New York State Office Of Alcoholism And Substance Abuse Services U.S. Dept. Of Education, Office Of Educational Research And Improvement, Educational Resources Information Center, 1999.
Leinwand, Dona. "College drug use, binge drinking rise - USATODAY.com." News, Travel, Weather, Entertainment, Sports, Technology, U.S. & World - USATODAY.com. 17 Feb. 2007. 9 Apr. 2008 .
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