As a college student, it’s hard to deny the enormous presence of alcohol on campus. Campus town main streets are filled with bars and liquor stores, social media accounts market the lifestyle directly to us, and lax university/local ordinances make it easy to get access, making alcohol a staple of college culture for the foreseeable future. But hiding the dangers that it brings should not be.
College students and their non-college peers stand far apart from one another when it comes to alcohol. A University of Michigan study says that 80% of college students have reported consuming at least one serving of alcohol within the last two weeks; their non- college peers only reported about 60% in this same category.
The two groups stood further apart when the same researchers looked at how much they drank and when they did drink. About 50% of the college students surveyed reported having five or more drinks within the last two weeks in order to get drunk, which is classified as binge drinking in this study. In the group of similar-aged individuals not in college only 30% of respondents reported doing this.
Alcohol use plays a role in the worsening effects of mental illness, with many researchers warning of the potential danger. Both groups examined report a general mental illness rate of about 45%, but a study conducted by the American Medical Association includes “Alcohol Disorders,” i.e. addiction and dependency disorders, are caused by extreme use of drugs and alcohol, as well as other psychiatric problems that may come from their prolonged use. About 21% of college students in the study were classified as having an alcohol disorder, compared to only 16% of their non-college peers. Alcohol disorders were the place where these two groups stood apart the most.
Efforts have been undertaken to limit binge drinking on college campuses with substantial funding of around $68 billion in grants coming from the Department of Education to help create programs to try and curtail the frightening statistics. In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services has given out around $22 billion to fund grants to help establish better mental health services on campuses.
Binge drinking prevention programs, a class that most college freshmen will sit through, teaches students about the great harm that can come from excessive alcohol use, rather than the long-term effects and impact it can have on their mental health. Mental health resources and counseling centers on campuses are often underfunded, over-crowded, and under-staffed, such that students are often unable to receive the care and treatment they deserve.
Students suffering from alcohol disorders rarely seek them out. A solution lies in how these existing programs, can work together. The safe-drinking classes that every freshman must take can work to better incorporate mental health into their curriculum and educate students on how to get help if they need it.
Schools and the federal government can make a greater effort to invest in campus mental health resources and work to give students better access to resources, prevent hurdles, shorten wait times, and provide better oversight to ensure that these problems do not occur.
Mental health is the next epidemic on campuses across America, and steps must be taken to prevent it before the already existing problems worsen.
Gordon Young is a resident of Oak Park.