For Cal Poly students, the signs of problematic drinking don’t have to do with drinking every day or drinking in the morning, Mary Peracca, a Cal Poly drug and alcohol counselor of 12 years, said. One of the more subtle traits Peracca sees in students she meets with who drink excessively is chronic low self-esteem, she said. They don’t feel like they’re living a very authentic or meaningful life, she said.
“It’s hard to feel good about yourself when you wake up every morning from doing something stupid the night before,” Peracca said.
The fun doesn’t last forever; it only lasts for a night, Peracca said. The good news is there’s a lot of alcohol awareness programming that goes on all year round, which includes alternative events without the pressures of substances, she said.
“I think, with all of our efforts, we don’t want to just wait for a tragedy to happen,” she said.
Students who really feel the most satisfied are doing something that is of a giving nature, Peracca said.
“They’re doing something that’s some kind of act of generosity and making their world bigger,” Peracca said.
The excessive drinking lifestyle is self-centered, Peracca said. When students are constantly worried about where, when and who they’re going to party with on the weekend, they lose a lot of time for other hobbies, she said.
“This is really the time of life to explore,” Peracca said.
College students typically drink because they want to connect with other students, blow off stress from things that are bothering them or because of past problems, Peracca said. Excessive drinking creates its own problems, no matter what the original reasoning or intention was, she said.
“Some students feel good and they drink to feel better and other students don’t feel that great and they’re drinking to feel good,” Peracca said.
When Peracca meets with students, she helps them find out what they enjoy by looking back at what was fun for them before they started drinking, she said.
“What was it before drinking took over as your one and only social outlet?” Peracca said. “Where can you find meaning?”
One way to avoid binge drinking is to find other interests and hobbies, Peracca said.
“Poly Escapes, every weekend there’s activities going on,” Peracca said. “They have all the equipment you can rent out to go camping or surfing.”
San Luis Obispo County is full of free and fun things to do right outside the front door, she said. Some of those activities, such as climbing, can give students the same sort of serotonin high they try to reach with substances. Also, if students have an early climb the next morning, they’re less likely to get carried away the night before, she said.
Students feel pressures to fit in and it can weigh on them, Peracca said.
What psychologists find is students have a misconception that everyone is exhibiting a certain behavior and so they choose to engage in that behavior as well, Hannah Roberts, a Cal Poly drug and alcohol psychologist, said.
“The reality is actually not quite as serious as the perception,” Roberts said.
Excessive drinking is a very typical social behavior at this point, Roberts said.
“I hear a lot of students say things like, ‘Well, this is what everyone does’ or ‘This is what the college experience is like,’” Roberts said.
It does take some work to find others who are interested in other things besides partying, Peracca said.
“Align yourself with other students who have found ways to have fun and recreational activities that aren’t alcohol-centered,” Peracca said.
Use Associated Students, Inc. events to discover new places and new students, she said.
“Those are all clean and sober activities for students with people who just like to have fun being outdoors,” Peracca said.
Friday Night Live and PULSE are both a part of keeping the alcohol awareness message in the public eye, she said.
The goal of Friday Night Live is to spread the word about drug and alcohol awareness as well as healthy lifestyle choices, Jessica Montalban, Friday Night Live President said.
Montalban started in Friday Night Live during her freshman year after she watched a friend go through some traumatic substance abuse issues that eventually led to her leaving Cal Poly, she said.
“I want students to know how to recognize and help a friend when they are in need or when they themselves need help,” Montalban said.
Teaching individuals how to look out for themselves and their friends is a productive method because it applies to a wide range of people, she said
“I don’t want to preach to students because that is what they encountered in high school,” Montalban said.
The events Friday Night Live puts on are free and for all on-campus students, Montalban said.
“It is a great way to still go out, but eliminate the pressures of drugs and alcohol being present,” she said.
Montalban wants to provide students with the tools to make smart decisions when they’re in situations with social pressures, she said.
“Every individual is capable of making their own decisions, and when it comes to drinking, those decisions are no different,” Montalban said.