There’s a saying some college students jokingly quote: “It’s only called alcoholism after college.” But in reality, alcoholism for young college-aged individuals could be more prevalent than one thinks.
According to the Cal Poly Peer Resource Web site, 159,000 of today’s college freshmen will drop out of school in the next year for alcohol or drug-related reasons.
Not only is alcohol a factor in students dropping out of college, but it’s also a huge drain on students’ wallets. The same site stated that the average student spends about $900 on alcohol each year as opposed to the average $450 spent on books.
Luckily, there are some resources out there that are available to help anyone who may have a problem with alcohol.
On Cal Poly’s campus, there is the Peer Resource Center located on the lower level of the Health Center. There are three teams of students – Health Enrichment Action Team (HEAT), Thoughtful Lifestyle Choices (TLC) and Educational Resources on Sexuality (EROS) – that are readily available to talk to students by phone or by appointment.
Nutrition junior Amy Ovadia said students can get information privately about alcohol, even if they don’t feel they have a problem.
“We offer one-on-one consultation,” she said. “Anyone can come here and talk to someone or take home pamphlets.”
If a student who comes to the resource center fits the “high-risk” criteria, then he or she can be recommended to see a professional specialist. Mary Peracca is a substance abuse specialist who Ovadia said “is really good.”
The real draw of the resource center for any student who may be looking for help is that it’s a judgment-free area.
“We’re not professionals and we’re not specialists, but we do this because sometimes it’s easier to talk to peers about things,” Ovadia said. “We try to let them know that we’re not going to judge you and we understand where you’re coming from.”
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings take place on campus during the fall, winter and spring quarters.There are meetings held in room 153 of the Cal Poly Health Center from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m on Wednesdays.
One of the volunteers at the main AA meeting site in San Luis Obispo – named “Rebecca” out of respect for the traditions of AA and anonymity – said there are 53 meetings every week for any individual to attend in San Luis Obispo morning, afternoon and night, seven days a week.
Rebecca said there are a few key signs that might indicate an alcohol problem.
“Just because someone has one blackout doesn’t necessarily mean they are an alcoholic; it’s more subtle than the other option of every time you drink, you get drunk,” Rebecca said. “What I think is more telling is if you are always thinking about when you can get your next drink. You just get an urge; normal people don’t do that.”
Another question that students who might have addictions should ask themselves is whether alcohol is causing problems in any part of their lives.
“If so, then it’s time to take a look at yourself,” Rebecca said.
According to the Peer Resource Web site, “almost one-third of college students admit to having missed at least one class because of their alcohol or drug use.” College is hard enough without having something like alcohol to hinder success.
It’s even stated on the site that “a night of heavy drinking can impair one’s ability to think abstractly for up to 30 days.” This means that it will be a lot harder to cram for that midterm, write an essay or even just stay awake for a lecture for days after a bingefest.
Symptoms of alcohol dependence include: neglect of important social, occupational or recreational activities; excessive use; impaired control; persistent use; withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, sweating and shakiness; and a built-up tolerance.
At www.aa.org, there are specific questions that can help determine if someone does have a problem.
Another volunteer from AA – a Cal Poly alumnus named “Robert” – said students should also be aware of the scenario where “everyone is laughing and having a good time, and when the night is over, they all want to go home but you want to keep drinking.
“It sets up an obsession,” he said.
Though many tend to relate alcoholics to older people, in reality, one can never be “too young” for alcoholism.
“There are kids at Cal Poly with long-term sobriety, 23- and 24-year-old kids who have figured out at 17 that they’ve got a problem and have been sober for seven years,” Robert said.
“If you are a latent alcoholic and you’ve already got the tendency to do a lot of drinking at a young age, then you’ll most likely become an alcoholic at a much younger age,” Rebecca said.
For those who may be wary of attending an AA meeting or have preconceived notions about the program, anonymity has always been the basis of the program. A person doesn’t have to be religious in any way to go to the meetings, and it clearly states in the handbook that it is not a temperance movement. Also, the 12 steps, the core of the AA program, are actually based on trial and error of earlier AA members.