22 Aug Drugs Running Interference on College Campuses
Going away to college is an exciting experience for a fresh undergrad. New people to meet, new things to learn and new opportunities abound.
College is a time for a lot of young people to venture outside of their comfort zone and try new hobbies, get involved in new communities and begin to lay the foundation for who they will become later in life. Freshman year is also the time that a lot of students test the waters when it comes to drugs and alcohol. While the hope is that it stops with experimentation, the increasingly tolerant attitude that many students take towards drugs can encourage not just experimentation, but abuse. When drugs become a part of collegiate life, the academics can quickly slip to the side. For families of new students though, there are some warning signs that schoolwork has taken a backseat to chemicals.
“It’s not just weed – it was normal for everyone on the lacrosse team to be doing coke and Oxycontin. Some of the best players on the team would drink a 5th of Jack Daniels in a night of partying,” said Joseph V.B. about his experience as an NCAA collegiate athlete. Permissive attitudes like this contribute toward lax standards and lowered inhibitions when it comes to trying drugs that are considered dangerous by most in society. When students who would otherwise think twice about using drugs like cocaine see successful athletes with them, it begins to remove the taboo that they had associated with the drug. The college that I attended, an upper tier University of California school, published a student run newspaper that often had editorials that were essentially glorified drug trip reports. This creates widespread desensitization to a serious issue. It’s hard to maintain an anti-drug stance when you’re being bombarded with stories of students having a great time abusing them.
The effects that drug abuse has on academic performance can be devastating. While sporadic partying in college is totally normal, what often begins as occasional drunken weekends can quickly turn into a lifestyle. Academically, school was never difficult for me. When I showed up for class and did the assignments, I would at the very least pass my classes. As drugs became a bigger part of my life though, my attendance rapidly declined. First I would go to most of my classes; soon I started skipping a few each week. As time went on and my using progressed, I would figure out which professors took attendance and which did not, and only show up to classes of the ones who did, getting assignments in the missed classes from my classmates. Before midterms and finals, I would frantically eat handfuls of amphetamines – Adderall, Vyvanse, Dexerall – and stay up for a couple of days cramming for the test. This was surprisingly common in my dorm, and worked to keep me afloat for a bit. Eventually though, I started failing and dropping classes because I couldn’t even manage to show up for tests. In the first couple of years at school I watched a lot of other students follow this same pattern and slowly drop out, give up or get in drug related legal trouble that prevented them from continuing their education.
As a family member of a new undergrad there are a few red flags that can be early indicators of this kind of addictive behavior. One of the first things to happen, especially for students that live on campus, is decreased visits home. Knowing that I would not be able to use the way I wanted to around my family, I limited visits back home as much as I could. Of course there were always good excuses – I wanted to spend the summer taking some extra classes on campus or my local job couldn’t give me the time off – but the fact was, I made trips home as infrequently as possible. Another big one was constantly needing money. A new course material, an unexpected phone loss, or a random but necessary bike repair were all great choices when it came to a spur of the moment story to elicit some extra financial aid from the folks. This went as far as forging receipts from the college bookstore to get cash reimbursement. The biggest indicators though, were the dramatic shifts in attitude and appearance that my family only really noticed when I came home to visit. Loss of weight, poor hygiene, a short temper and constant preoccupation were all big warning signs. Long before the failing classes started to become an issue, my family noticed the change in personality and health.
College can be an amazing experience, and is supposed to come with its share of trials and lessons learned. Falling into the trap of drug addiction doesn’t have to be part of the story though. Overly permissive attitudes toward drug abuse on campus need to be checked and families need to stay involved with student’s lives in order to set new undergrads up for success.