Dorm Room Denial: Using College as a Mask for Addiction

Finding the line between getting crazy and getting hooked.

Posted Aug 12, 2015

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Psy-College-y Today is a blog by college students looking at all aspects of college life through the lens of psychology.

“I’m over the whole sober studying thing,” my best friend Jessica says as we grab a pair of coveted seats at the library, squeezed in between slews of students cramming for their upcoming finals. “This is seriously the only way to do well.” She cracks open her half-pound neuroscience textbook. She cracks open her bottle of Adderall.

College students are famous (or infamous, some might say) for avidly following the “work hard, play hard” mentality. After a two hour class, we slave over our notes at the library. On weekends, we wash down the study drugs we’ve been taking all week with endless shots of Fireball and cheap beers. Our Sunday mornings are spent sleeping until noon, kneeling over the toilet bowl, and recounting events from the night before that many of us don’t remember. Whenever a shred of concern is expressed about what we’re doing, a phrase like “whatever, it’s college,” is uttered and promptly followed by nervous laughter.

As a student at an elite university in New York City, you quickly realize that no drug is off-limits. Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse are passed around like candy during finals week, and when it comes to frat parties, cocaine is as common as the red solo cup. This is not to say that every student here participates in these types of activities, but those who do indulge in the party scene are essentially programmed to binge drink and pop pills. When the illusion is created that acting crazy and reckless with substances is part of the college experience, almost nothing shocks us. If everyone is doing it, we learn to expect it.

I realized that my roommate’s boyfriend Jack had a problem last fall, when he invited us over to his off-campus apartment for what had been described as a “chill night in,” where we would just “watch the game and hang out.” My roommate and I did just that. Jack, on the other hand, ordered a gram of cocaine, offering us a couple lines but snorting most of it himself throughout the night. I knew that Jack, along with many other young men in his fraternity, often used and supplied cocaine at clubs and parties. I had even heard people casually mention that he may be addicted, remembering that he was high almost every time they saw him. When I saw him using before my eyes, his addiction not only became clear but also became difficult to excuse as simply acting like a college frat boy

“What a crazy Monday night,” my roommate laughed as we walked home.

When I mentioned that Jack seemed to be doing a lot of coke (especially for a night of staying in), she shrugged it off and denied even the possibility of his cocaine abuse being a real problem.

“Every guy in his frat does that,” she insisted. “Last week, his roommates took so much Xanax at a mixer that they passed out on the subway. They’re just so crazy!”

Later that year, Jack dropped out of school and his parents checked him into a rehab facility upstate. That same year, my best friend got so drunk that she woke up in the hospital with no recollection of what happened to her. My chemistry lab partner snorted meth that he thought was cocaine, and woke up the next morning coughing up blood. In preparation for her next exam, Jessica took so much Adderall that she shook and couldn’t sleep for three days.

Our college years are a unique component of our growing up process. They represent four years that we will never get back, giving us a license to be young and to make mistakes when the consequences aren’t so serious. In the midst of this “you’re only young once” hysteria, it’s easy for us to forget that these years are just as crucial for developing both our minds and our long-term habits. The latest research has found that our brains are not fully developed until we reach the age of 25, meaning that the consequences of our substance use now could very well have long-term effects on our mental and physical health.

As we transition from reckless to responsible, we must begin to find the line between crazy college behaviors and serious addictions. We have to look out for each other, and we have to speak up when enough is enough. There is nothing wrong with letting loose and experiencing drugs and alcohol in college, but there is something wrong with using this time to excuse ourselves or our friends for forming serious habits.