taboo topics

One drink, two drink, three drink. Four. How many drinks before you hit the floor?

Playing with alcohol is life threatening. I’m not just talking life or death. I’m talking about the difference between job or no job, pass or fail, friends or enemies.

Since my junior year of high school, I have watched friends submerge themselves in party scenes and friend groups that leave them blacked out every weekend morning, calling their ex-partners saying “they’ve changed,” and crying in the bathroom because they think they’re failures. I too have had my own fair share of experiences.

However, I believe conversation is what has kept me from drinking abusively throughout college thus far. I have talked about my mistakes and understand my limits. I don’t view poor choices as regrets, I see them as learning experiences.

I will never tell you not to drink. Drinking alcohol isn’t bad until it’s an abusive habit. Like any other recreational activity, excess can lead to current and future problems in a person’s health, economic standing and social abilities.

College is often where students discover the good and bad effects of alcohol because it’s easily accessed and drinking is seen as a social norm. Students come to college with the assumption that everyone drinks heavily. Often, freshman think that parties are supposed to leave you waking up hungover on someone’s floor and tailgates are a reason to drink all day. The school of thought is, “I’m young. I can make mistakes and nothing is stopping me.”

Sometimes we run into problems when we grow old. Sometimes we make too many mistakes. Sometimes we can’t stop.

In other words, sometimes recreation can lead to alcoholism.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcoholism and other alcohol use disorders affected nearly 17 million adults in 2012 . The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services has also reported that two-thirds of 19 to 25-year-olds binge drink in the state alone .

Binging is the problem, but rarely do we talk about its dangers and how we’re flirting with a substance that has the potential of derailing our lives.

Conversations that happen early in college and consistently throughout our young adult lives are the best way to help prevent drinking habits that lead to alcoholism. This week I talked to Megan R. Hopkins, project manager for the Nebraska Prevention Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse. Her department is attempting to reshape how students perceive drinking habits on campus through discussion.

Daily Nebraskan: What does your organization provide the university in regards to alcohol awareness?

Megan Hopkins: Our organization works in relation to alcoholism and alcohol abuse mainly coordinating with the Nebraska Collegiate Consortium. It consists of over 26 different colleges from all over the state. This includes University of Nebraska associates and private institutions. We provide a variety of technical support, depending on the issue. This can include grants, information and continued education programs. We work inside and outside of UNL, providing these resources and interacting with organizers who are in direct contact with potentially at-risk students.

DN: What students are you trying to reach?

MH: We don’t directly talk to students, but we work with on-campus organizations that facilitate discussion and assistance for university students. We have some work that focuses on the intervention approach with students that might be sent to an on-campus organization because of academic, legal or personal reasons. A large part of our work is trying to reach the whole population. We attempt to show that the assumptions associated with college and drinking are wrong. Everyone doesn’t drink and everyone who drinks doesn’t have to binge drink.

DN: How do you facilitate discussion about abusive drinking not being a social obligation?

MH: There is not a set program, but it can depend on the major issues a school is facing. Sometimes we will bring in speakers or conduct community events. Mainly we are talking to freshman. Statistically, first year students are at the most risk of participating in frequent binge drinking. We try to show that they are not required to drink and that the pressure is a social construct. The perception of what a student thinks are social norms that promote risky behaviors don’t match their effects in reality. We try to provide a comprehensive environment by straying away from the absence-only approach and attempt to focus on personal responsibility and avoiding dangerous situations.

DN: What can students do to help bring up conversations about dangerous drinking?

MH: We want to give students an understanding that says alcohol is not a way to deal with an issue. Mainly, we do this by having students see how their assumptions of a college environment promote risky drinking, but then don’t show the problems that come out of these environments. Students that are willing to lead conversation really help institutions’ successes in lowering alcohol-based problems. When a student or a student organization shares that they don’t want to see their friends participating in risky drinking and sharing their own stories, others will listen, and it motivates students to think about potential issues.