In College, we can explore our interests, work towards our goals, and plan for our futures. It’s a time to meet new people, socialize and make our own choices.
Socializing at college provides emotional and academic support. Choosing how to have fun and de-stress matters. Some students use alcohol and cannabis as a way to socialize and see this as an integral part of the “college experience”. Some students have a fear of missing out and participate in substance use even when they are not comfortable and other students arrive at college with established patterns of use.
We do not always think about the consequences when we are having fun. With this good time comes the risk of unintentional injuries, accidents, lowered inhibitions, conflict, fights, violence, and alcohol poisoning. With Cannabis use, we could experience paranoia, panic, loss of personal identity, possible psychosis, lower reaction times, and increased heart rate (risk of heart attack and increased risk for stroke). While both substances are legal, neither comes without risk. According to College Drinking.gov, “About 1 in 4 college students report academic consequences from drinking, including missing classes, falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades with approximately 9 percent of college students meeting the criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder”
Some common beliefs about substance use include, if I only use to have fun, if I only drink beer, if I just use on weekends, I won’t develop a problem. Some people believe those who use substances to cope with their problems are at higher risk for addiction than those who only drink to socialize. The truth is it’s not about the reasons why a person uses substances, it’s about the quantity and frequency. What
may begin as one drink or one toke may become two, once a week, twice a week or daily. When a substance is used in greater quantities, repeatedly over time the brain (intellect, functioning, social and emotional regulation) and the body develops tolerance. Greater frequency increases the chance of developing a substance use disorder. If an individual has high tolerance and can “hold their liquor”, this is cause for concern.
No one expects, or sets out to develop a problem with alcohol, cannabis or other substances. While it’s true, there can be biological factors that increase an individual’s risk, it’s not fate, it just signifies vulnerability. Making different choices can help prevent a substance use disorder.
How do you know if you might be at risk? Does your use of alcohol or other substances put the things you value in jeopardy? Is getting high on alcohol or drugs an important part of your life? Has your use or tolerance increased? Do you only find social interactions fun if there is alcohol or other substances? Is it hard to stop using once you start? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, check out ScreenU on USM’s Health and Counseling website.
There are other ways to socialize. Choose to meet for coffee, a meal, get involved in your department, seek a work-study job in an area interests you, join a club, go for walks, hike, and explore the local area. For more information, contact Diane Geyer, LCPC, LADC, CCS at University Health and Counseling 207- 780-4050.