The negative effects of going to a party school
At a university labeled as a “party school” it can be easy to get swept up in alcohol culture without thinking about the consequences.
As my friends and I turn 21 and start legally going to bars and drinking, I’ve noticed a lot of unhealthy habits that we have all developed. Whether it’s frequently blacking out, displaying empty bottles as tokens in our homes or drinking to cope with stress, alcohol consumption has become so normalized in college culture.
College students are all collectively stressed, dealing with new relationships and huge, life changing events, all at once. With this newfound independence, alcohol and other drugs can be an easy solution.
In a culture that promotes alcohol consumption, we have become desensitized to its effects. It is deeply embedded in everything we do.
I spoke to Dr. Jaime Zuckerman, a licensed clinical psychologist, about the effects that alcohol consumption can have on college students.
“The psychological impact of alcohol is considerable,” Zuckerman says.
According to her, alcohol as a coping mechanism is not effective. She says that it temporarily masks emotional and physical pain by slowing down the brain and nervous system.
However, it comes with more risk than reward.
Alcohol denies the person the opportunity to develop healthy behavioral strategies to effectively deal with their emotions. This often leads to poor decision making, impulsive behaviors, and social isolation. This can further lead to negative consequences in relationships, work, school, as well as increased anxiety and depression.
“Use of alcohol to manage emotional pain often leads to tolerance development,” she says. “More alcohol is needed to achieve the same result.”
Zuckerman says that the long-term effects of alcohol consumption include mood disorders, impaired physical health, chronic pain and neurological issues. Other alcohol-related dangers include driving under the influence, alcohol poisoning and dangerous interactions with certain medications.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), almost 54% of college students drank alcohol in the last month, and more than 1 out of 3 engaged in binge drinking behavior (reaching a Blood Alcohol Concentration of .08 within two hours.) About 20% of college students meet criteria for an alcohol use disorder.
These statistics also take into consideration the characteristics of the schools themselves, such as schools with a prominent Greek life, strong athletic programs and live-in fraternities and sorority houses, Zuckerman says.
According to the NIH, about 1 in 4 students reported academic consequences from drinking.
Zuckerman, who has taught at multiple universities in the past, says that based on NIH statistics and her own observations in the classroom, alcohol use has its largest impact in the first six to eight weeks of students’ first year in college. She says this is because students succumb their newfound freedom, new social expectations and pressures.
“Students who engage in frequent drinking often have more academic difficulties, ranging from higher rates of missed classes, late assignments and poorer test scores,” Zuckerman says. “Also, students are way less likely to retain information both auditorily in the classroom setting as well as while studying.”
Her advice to college students is to get educated about alcohol, its consequences, and mental health in general. She says therapy is also helpful for college-age students to develop effective coping mechanisms and to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress.
“While I do think the degree to which college culture triggers these issues is contingent on many variables, including type of school, preexisting psychological disorders, individual coping skills, and social support, it definitely makes these issues more prevalent,” she says.