Unhealthy drinking habits are too normalized on college campuses



Being new to college, I still find it jarring when I go on social media and see people I have known since we were seven years old posting pictures of themselves completely plastered in their white-brick dorm rooms, complete with cheap IPA. Maybe it is because I was part of the overachiever clique in high school, so the most risky thing that any of us did was watch an R-rated movie when we were 15, but it’s just plain weird to see your old friends become social alcoholics, all documented by Instagram and Snapchat.

According to Merriam-Webster, alcoholism is a “chronic, [...] progressive, potentially fatal disorder marked by excessive and usually compulsive drinking of alcohol leading to psychological and physical dependence or addiction.” Alcoholism is not just limited to bumbling middle-aged men; it could be your friend who drinks to cope or your classmate who is never sober on social media. The only difference between a social alcoholic and a more stereotypical alcoholic is that social alcoholics tend to drink with others at parties and events. College students may normalize social drinking, but even this can be a form of alcohol dependency. We cannot allow media representations and social media to glorify binge drinking and distract us from the fact that alcoholism, specically social alcoholism, is a prevalent issue for young people right now. The root of the issue is based in pressure to drink from friends and more traditional forms of media, as well as social media.

As college students, we feel as though drinking is seen as an inexorable part of our lives, an expectation that can extend past graduation. According to a survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in 2014, almost 60 percent of college students aged 18-22 drank in the past month and 2 out of 3 of those individuals engaged in binge drinking within that same period. Some students agree that drinking is expected — almost necessary — in social situations. “I actually never drink alone and have never done it before but I cannot be around a social group after about 9 p.m. without drinking,” one student said. “If I am going to a party I certainly cannot survive it without alcohol. I need it in certain social situations after a certain hour but I never need or want it otherwise, especially outside of social situations.”

The expectation for college students to drink is indicative of a mentality that youth should engage in risky behaviors just because they are young and that’s what young people do. I am not the D.A.R.E. program and I am not trying to urge anyone to never drink again, nor am I trying to lecture anyone about peer pressure. However, most people who pressure others to drink may not even realize what they’re doing because they have no malicious intent. They may want others to “relax” or “let loose,” or they may just not want their friend to be the only sober person in the room. No matter the intention, they are still directly pressuring others to drink.

Direct pressure is a large contributor to the social alcoholism epidemic, but indirect pressure, in the form of media, is even more impactful. Not only social media, but traditional media, including advertisements, television, cinema and music portray alcohol as elegant and mature, almost as if it were a necessary part of a fulfilling adult life. In entertainment, alcohol and drunkenness is usually portrayed as a comical, oh-so-relatable plot point. Why is getting wasted every single weekend only to spend the mornings after with splitting headaches, stumbling around still in sequins “relatable”? I personally knew I had a problem with the way I viewed alcohol when I was in my junior year of high school and hyper-stressed about my physics class and thought, “This is what it feels like to need a drink.” Alcohol is shown as an entertaining form of escapism in media, and it concerns me that such an image is being propagated. Turning to substances when life is bad cannot be healthy. Coping mechanisms should not get you messed up and possibly cause addiction.

Social media also has a big hand in creating and perpetuating social alcoholism. According to an article published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research conducted in 2015, 97 percent of posts on Facebook about alcohol are in a positive context and 67.2 percent of posts about alcohol showed it within a social context. For sober youth, the amount of social media posts they see involving alcohol is overwhelming and they may think that “everyone’s doing it.” Social media is only a small window into someone’s life, so we will not see the vomiting over the toilet bowl that follows after the shot and the picture were taken. Drinking is further gloried on the pages of popular college-themed Instagram pages like PSU Barstool or Fifth Year.

I support students trying new things and having fun in a social context, but I do not want us to continue the pattern of young social alcoholism. In order to cope with the normalization of these unhealthy habits, we need to be more self-aware, whether it be limiting toxic behavior regarding alcohol in yourself or in others.