Young adults who go off to college typically have few allusions about the prevalence of alcohol use on campuses. Most have expectations of attending parties where drinking and drugging takes place, and know full well that they will probably partake in the use of such substances, at least from time to time. For others, drinking alcohol in unhealthy ways will be a weekly ritual. Engaging in binge drinking, which is when a male consumes 5 alcoholic beverages and female drinks 4 in a 2 hour -period. Over the course of the night, drinking in that manner can bring one’s blood alcohol level to dangerous, and even deadly, heights. Yet, both young men and women will take such risks several days in row, sometimes from Thursday to Sunday.
Try as colleges and universities might, educating young people about the inherent risks of alcohol use, especially regarding binge and high-intensity drinking (i.e. women/men consuming 8+/10+ drinks in a day), is a difficult task. People in their late teens and early twenties often forget the impermanence of existence. That is, they are not invincible.
All of us, especially those who are working a program of addiction recovery, at one point in our lives harbored false beliefs about what we could tolerate; we have views about what we can put our mind and body through without consequence. Most of our former errors in thinking we inherited from our peers, in many cases those who are older than us. You may have an older sibling or close friend that introduced you to drugs or alcohol at a young age. They may have encouraged you to do certain things without a second thought of the consequences. In most cases, people who are exposed to mind-altering substances early on actually move on to adulthood without any serious, life-changing costs. But for others, something quite different often occurs.
Alcohol Use Disorder In College
Most teenagers have their first drink in high school. Some parents will try to instill a healthy relationship with alcohol at fairly young ages (which often backfires). In other cases, initiation begins at parties, or with older siblings or peers of similar age. But for those who will go on to experience the unmanageability and true costs of heavy drinking, it usually occurs at and around schools of higher learning—where entire communities revolve around both a learning and drinking culture.
In many ways, campuses are the perfect environment to incubate the growth of unhealthy drinking patterns. From social drinking abuses at fraternities and sororities, to a wealth of parties where drinking games and drug use are rampant. Those who engage in heavy drinking on a weekly basis put themselves at serious risk of developing alcohol dependency, and some will develop an alcohol use disorder. This may not happen in college, but later down the road.
It is not uncommon for college students to need to seek help for an alcohol use disorder. Some will drop out, others will take a semester hiatus to go into treatment. At PACE Recovery Center, we know first-hand that a significant number of male students need help, but only a few receive assistance. Partly because it is easy for a young person to convince oneself that their consumption is on par with their peers, thus convincing himself that he doesn't need treatment. A college faculty is rarely equipped with skills to identify which students are in need of intervention.
Campus faculties across the country do work hard to mitigate the prevalence of alcohol consumption, and encourage students to exercise good judgment, if alcohol is to be imbibed. But, and by default, if alcohol is mixed into just about any equation, sound judgment has left the party a long time ago. And it is often only after a tragedy when a university realizes that several of their students needed far more than an hour-long orientation into the dangers of drinking, or having to take a class after being caught with alcohol in the dorm. It is usually only after a death, or several, before someone says, ‘wait a minute.’ The behaviors exhibited in Greek life should not be allowed to continue. Yet each year, young men die from alcohol and hazing related deaths.
One Drink Too Many Changes Several Lives
Naturally, in the field of addiction our primary focus is to encourage people to seek help when their lives have become unmanageable because of substance use. This is not always an easy task with young males. We know that when addiction is left unchecked, the risks of serious life problems and premature death are exponentially greater. But it is also important to discuss the risks of substance use even when addiction is not part of the equation, as is often the case in college.
Even when you are not the one who is injured because of alcohol use, there can be a cost. As is the case involving the death of student this year at Penn State University. A fraternity party in early February that involved alcohol hazing, caused 19-year-old pledge Tim Piazza to incur an estimated BAC of .40. After repeated falls, and then falling down a flight of stairs, Piazza sustained a collapsed lung, ruptured spleen, and a non-recoverable brain injury, according to NBC 10. A tragedy to be sure. But what has many people across the country alarmed is the fact that the Brothers of Beta Theta Pi did little if anything to help the sophomore pledge—failing to call for an ambulance until 10:48 a.m. the next day.
The New York Times reported last month that eighteen members of the fraternity were charged in connection with the death: eight were charged with involuntary manslaughter and the rest with other lesser offenses. The death of one young man will, in one way or another, change the lives of nearly twenty young men in the prime of their life. And for what?
Alcohol Use Can Be Deadly
Cases like Piazza are not unique. Sadly. There is little way of knowing what it will take to convince young people that the game they are playing with alcohol has the highest of stakes. Whether from alcohol-related trauma, or the development of an alcohol use disorder, little good comes from heavy drinking. If you have a son in college who you believe to be abusing alcohol, please contact PACE Recovery Center today. We specialize in the treatment of young males whose lives have become impacted by the use of drugs and alcohol.