When was the last time you took a drug?
Some University of Georgia students are pretty quick to share this information with each other.
In class you’ll hear an off-hand comment about the amount of Adderall someone will need to study for that midterm; at a party you’ll hear a semi-incoherent offering of cocaine in their fraternity brother’s room; at a bar you’ll hear a slurred comment about how this is their sixth tequila shot of the night.
The language surrounding drug use comes across casual and cool, and at some point after freshman year, you become pretty used to the drastic measures some students take to alter their natural state. Drugs are increasingly relevant in college culture even outside of the stereotypical recreational drugs like marijuana or cocaine. In general, college students have become numb to the idea of numbing themselves.
Drugs and college are not unfamiliar with one another, but what's happening in today's college culture is feeling less like harmless fun and more like an escape from uncertain futures after graduation.
For the majority of the week, you can find most bars in Athens packed with inebriated college students. UGA’s drinking culture is impossible to miss. While the recreational drug scene is a little more reserved, after one trip to a frat party you figure it out pretty quickly.
All of this is not even to mention coffee and e-cigarettes, even though we wouldn’t typically think of caffeine and nicotine as drugs. Plenty of college students half-joke about not being able to function without coffee or find themselves begging their friends for a single hit of their Juul because they need it that badly.
The funny thing is, most times if you were to ask students what their obsession is with partying and the drinking/drug-use culture that coincides with it, you’d probably be met with some confusion. Many college students reach Saturday and claim they don’t feel like drinking because they’re nursing a two-day hangover, but they insist on drinking, because, well … it’s Saturday in Athens.
Some college students just want to let loose and disengage from life’s worries, and they’ve realized that alcohol and drugs will do just that. Some kids partake to alleviate the anxieties of overwhelming social situations or because they feel it is the norm and no college kids want to fall on the outside, especially not at a crowded party. Some feel like it’s a bonding activity among their friends or Greek life brothers and sisters, and become roped into these activities that become habitual.
Adult life habits form for many during college, so if the habit is week-long benders, a 9-5 every day of the week will be a rude awakening. The impending fate of “real world” stressors is no joke. Drugs can help make bearing that weight a bit easier. The dichotomy of engaging in both stimulant and depressant use is a recurring theme throughout the lives of college kids. College tends to feel like a rollercoaster with an overbearing “work hard, play hard” mentality.
Drug use on the rise
For a lot of students, it can feel as though the “correct” escape from the pressures of college is to turn to substances, even more than what used to be expected from college students. We can’t ignore the blatant fact that college students have been trying to escape something for decades now, and it seems that trend has only escalated.
Roughly 80% of U.S. college students have abused alcohol. 4.9% of college students used marijuana daily in 2016 which is a notable increase compared to the 2.8% of college students using daily 20 years earlier, according to Ashley Addiction Treatment. As for other drugs, between 1993 and 2005, the proportion of students who abused benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanax) increased by 450%.
Extensive drug use in college students can significantly affect not only their academic performance, but encourage risky or hazardous behavior down the line. Long-term, students can be setting themselves up for physical health decline, relationship issues and addiction and abuse.
College has always been viewed as grounds for experimenting with alcohol and drugs by many, but that playful open secret is shockingly different from the potential harsh reality of substance use. As young adults, we are still getting a grip on life on our own. Let’s face it, most of us are struggling to drink enough water and eat enough food everyday, so our engagement with drugs can eerily resemble a tightrope walk. Where do we draw the line between having fun and letting loose versus wanting to remove ourselves from reality and doing whatever that takes?
Young adults, particularly college kids, have been facing stressors that are incomparable to a lot of other life stages. Currently, we are trying to navigate how we’ll find a job in a post-pandemic economy, how our climate is going to survive past the near future and how we’ll be able to swing a career that pays enough to pay off our student loans before 2080. We’re not necessarily facing the brightest outlook right now, but there are ways to cope that may be healthier and more sustainable than excessive substance use.
So go and have all the fun that college has to offer, but maybe we shouldn’t be engaging in substance use we ourselves are not fully confident in. It’s okay to sit out a night out downtown if your body is not feeling it, and it’s more than okay to decline your friend’s repeated offer to take another shot with them.
We’re all learning to be adults right now, and learning what works for you and what doesn’t is more important than the stereotypical college expectations to be drunk six days a week. As a society, maybe we have some introspection to do on why we are so enraptured with the idea of altering our current mental and physical states. I just hope we don’t wind up in a place where we’re reliant on risky and unsustainable self-medication to make life bearable.