Freshman Safety Series: College life doesn’t have to equal “party life”

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We get it, you’re an adult now and away from your parents for what is most likely the first time in your life. You’re physically free and want to enjoy all of the perks that come with that responsibility — but, that is what you’re facing: responsibility. And with that comes more than just the pressure of keeping your grades up, getting active in the community and socializing. Chances are, you’ve already been exposed to drugs and alcohol at some point in your high school or middle school years, whether through a friend or that classmate your parents always warned you about. But the challenges you’ll face in college may open doors to problems more serious than the occasional drag of marijuana.

On a grander scale, the stats of Tennessee’s drug crisis on college campuses are not as high as they are in states like Montana, West Virginia and South Dakota, at least when it comes to known criminal activity. According to Project Know, data collected from the Office of Postsecondary Education reveals that the Volunteer state is actually under the median state average of 1.08 drug arrests per 1,000 students at .98, but a 6.3 increase from 2013 to 2014 shows that things are not improving.

Even if you don’t think you’re the kind of person who would abuse drugs and alcohol, there are many factors that may slowly change that.

Why do college students turn to mind-altering substances in the first place?

There are numerous reasons why someone may turn to drugs and alcohol, with the primary factor being stress. Most of the time, addiction arises from our need to cope with whatever stress we’re facing that we can’t deal with alone. Instead of reaching out to others or trying to simplify our own lives, we often turn inward and ignore the real problems. The mental repercussions of this for college students are well-documented, but we can’t ignore the toll that full semester hour loads, sometimes including every summer in order to graduate early, difficult or time-consuming coursework, part-time jobs, internships and social obligations can take on our physiological well-being.

But, not every college student turns to drugs to cope with being overworked. Sometimes they just want to experiment, or they feel pressured to do so. Peer pressure in college probably doesn’t play as big of a factor as it did in grade school, partly because university-level students don’t feel the need to fit in quite as much. Diversity in age, race, ethnicity and areas of study go a long way in helping to achieve that, but it’s not an unreasonable assumption to think that if you’re feeling down and lonely in your first few weeks away from home you may be more willing to go to that party your roommate keeps talking about.

What kind of substances are popular with college students?

We’ve all seen the “I pulled an all-nighter” zombie look on each others faces. At some point, every college student will pull one because it’s just inevitable. But when life and college intersect in ways that make it seem hard to accomplish anything, even staying up all night becomes impossible because your body is just physically unable to do it because you’re so tired. That’s where “study drugs” come into play, and the biggest culprit is Adderall. Similar to cocaine, this medication, primarily used to tread ADHD, is a stimulant that students like to take in order to stay up longer hours and focus.

According to a 2010 study in the Journal of Addictive Diseases, it was found that 62 percent of a group of students with ADHD medications prescriptions were selling them to students. Over 100 people die in the U.S. every day from prescription drug overdose, and that number is steadily rising. Any time you or someone you know takes an addictive drug that is not from his or her own prescription, that is considered abuse, and habitual use could be life-threatening. Among adults ages 18-25, prescription drug abuse is second only to marijuana abuse (for non-medical purposes), according to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

For more information on prescription drug abuse, addiction on college campuses and student health, visit drugwatch.com.

Will staying away from the party crowd really help?

University-level and national studies consistently show that drug abuse among college students is far greater than in other groups of people. Party drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy and LSD are always go-to drugs for the people who engage in the party lifestyle; but, binge drinking and abuse of over-the-counter drugs are just as viable options for people who think that not engaging in “dangerous” activity may make them safer. In fact, more than one in 10 teenagers will experiment with OTC drugs like cough medicines containing dextromethorphan or DXM, such as NyQuil, before they ever go to college, drinking entire bottles or swallowing all the pills in one sitting in order to feel a buzz. This is mostly because OTC drugs are legal and cheaper options, and consequently we have an entire sect of kids growing up with addictive behavior who will then be exposed to more addictive behavior and opportunities in college.

Drinking at parties to the point of getting drunk could either be a warning sign of personal struggles or just adults being adults, but frequent alcohol consumption of large quantities is never good for anyone’s health and should always be cause for concern. However, someone who drinks alone or secretively and shows signs of being isolated could also very well be using alcohol as an unhealthy coping mechanism. For friends and family, the most important thing is to be aware of your student’s mood swings and any severe changes in their daily lives and schedules. Chances are, if you know they’re struggling mentally and/or academically and they haven’t sought help from family or friends yet, they may be hoping to relieve their stress by other dangerous means.

What can I do to help someone who has overdosed?

If you have stumbled upon someone who has overdosed, your immediate reaction should be to call 911 and put the phone on speaker if possible. This will allow you to check the airways of the person who is unconscious and perform CPR if necessary. Once you are certain that they are breathing, something that helps is to trigger a person’s gag reflex in order to get rid of the toxic combination of substances in their body. At this time you may also want to run cold water on their skin in an effort to either wake them up or keep them conscious. Your top priorities should be to help them breathe, have a pulse and regain consciousness if possible to keep them from slipping in to a coma.

MTSU does not currently offer drug counseling services, however, the Student Health Services department in the recreation center is a good option for any follow-up medical treatment after a drug overdose. Campus doctors can always answer drug-related questions and inquires. Knowing that addiction is only a symptom of a larger disease, it’s recommended that students seek further psychological care with onsite counseling in the KUC or with the option of off-campus help at the non-profit MTSU Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, a training facility affiliated with the Professional Counseling Program located at 503 East Bell Street.

Follow Sara Snoddy on Twitter at @Sara_Snoddy.

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