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When the Party Ends and the Problem Begins: College Alcoholism

Freshman orientation is typically the introduction to college life. Incoming students attend speeches with their family, hear all about the curricula offered, and learn about various campus activities that they are free to participate in. It’s a time to become acquainted with college life so, after the families pack up and go home, students will be semi-settled and ready to start their career as college students. Freshman orientation (Frosh-o), to many, is also about something else. Going out, getting drunk, and engaging in other risky behaviors.

Drinking during one’s college years is considered by many students to be a rite of passage. Students arrive at college and are free to explore, make friends, be independent and, of course, party! Jokes are written about it, comments are made in jest (“I’m such a drunk! LMAO!”) and schools are even rated as to which ones are the top “party schools.” Eighty percent of college students drink and half of those students who do drink engage in binge drinking which is defined as, for women, consuming four or more drinks and for men consuming five or more drinks in two hours. Four of five drinks in two hours!? That’s nothing to some college students today. A strong mixed drink with a few beers in an hour easily surpasses the alcohol content of 4 or 5 drinks.

However, there is an underlying seriousness often ignored by students that heavy drinking is not all fun and games. Imagine being one of the 500,000 students engaging in unsafe sex and being faced with an unwanted pregnancy. 100,000 students report being too intoxicated to know if they even consented to having sex. Suicides goes up; academic difficulties increase; vandalism, property damage, and police involvement all go up when heavy drinking is part of a night out.

ALL students do not engage in risky drinking behavior and all students certainly don’t become alcoholics, but enough DO such that it is an important issue worth giving much attention.

The consequences of drinking can be severe. Sometimes drinking only results in a headache or a missed class…maybe even a missed exam. Well, this is no problem, right? One can write the professor and claim they overslept, was sick or even that a relative died (it’s a fascinating fact that there is always an alarming spike in deaths of grandmothers on any given exam day!) So the student gets a pass and is free to do it again—and again—without realizing that heavy drinking increases the risk for getting arrested, assaulted, raped, or even killed. Any of these consequences can be life-altering. You can receive a 10-year sentence (in some states you can get life) for vehicular manslaughter because you were one of the 3.3 million students who engaged in drunk driving. Think about this: you can end someone else’s life—and also your own—by making this reckless decision. All the hard work you put into college and all the dreams you had of finding your way into a career you love can be undone in a fatal few seconds after having made the decision to get behind the wheel after having some drinks.

Colleges and universities across the country are entrusted with the safety of millions of kids and young adults across the country. This is an enormous responsibility not only to the students but also to the parents. Colleges must commit to ensure the safety of their students, especially when it comes to alcohol-related issues. Parents are sending their children off to college to become independent, often for the first time, and the last thing they want is a late night phone call informing them that their child was arrested or—far worse—killed during a night of partying. Sadly, this scenario is played out thousands of times across the United States every year.

It’s time to recognize that there are problems and issues with alcoholism on college campuses, and this is only the first step. Recognize it, then treat it effectively. Even small steps can make a world of difference.

Dr. Cullen Hardy obtained his Doctor of Psychology degree in Clinical Psychology (Psy.D.) in 2015 from Antioch University New England in Keene, New Hampshire. Cullen received his Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University (2012) and a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame (2009) where he majored in Anthropology.

Dr. Hardy practices in South Bend, Indiana and has extensive experience treating those suffering from addiction problems. He is an author and sober coach who works with clients all across the United States. You can contact him via or [email protected]