The threat of substance abuse to college students

Contributing writer Ashton Nanninga discusses the dangers alcohol abuse.

Ashton Nanninga

The opioid crisis has become a serious threat to public health, but from where does the drug abuse stem? Under the Controlled Substances Act, drugs have been categorized into their respective classes ranging from Schedule I to Schedule V. Schedule V is the lowest containing drugs such as codeine and other common substances used in cold/flu medicines. As the scheduling moves toward the lower numbers, the drug classifications intensify.

According to the DEA, “Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” These include heroin, marijuana, ecstasy, peyote, etc. However, alcohol is not listed in any of the schedule categories.

Alcohol is exempt from the Controlled Substances Act. Why is this? Does it not have high potential for abuse? As a nation, alcohol use has become so normalized that we no longer consider it a drug. Today, we say “drugs and alcohol” as if they do not fall under the same umbrella or have similar effects on the body. We are not giving alcohol its deserved addictive attention. Alcohol overuse is a continuous threat to public health. It is responsible for more deaths than the opioid crisis, up to 88,000 per year. So why haven’t we been paying attention?

Gabrielle Glaser of the New York Times states in an article titled “America, Can We Talk About Your Drinking?” that excessive drinking usually increases during the college years. Epidemiologist, Dr. Rick Grucza, backs up this claim with five government surveys issued over the last decade that show, on average, individuals who binge drink will have four to five drinks per day.

It is no help that alcohol is being increasingly glamorized. Pop culture influences what we see as essential to assimilate into peer groups. More and more, drinking alcohol is being portrayed as the key method for having a “good” time. As Glaser puts it, “the culture around drinking, the way we drink, has grown more intense.” So where does this leave college students?

According to Dr. Sean Esteban McCabe, research professor at the University of Michigan, individuals with “alcohol use disorder” are more likely to use nonmedical prescription drugs. Also, a study done at Columbia University, “Wasting the Best and the Brightest: Substance Abuse at America’s Colleges and Universities” from 1993 to 2005, revealed that “half of full-time college students (3.8 million) binge drink, abuse prescription drugs, and/or abuse illegal drugs.” And the numbers have only risen since then. In an article published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 2014, binge drinking has remained consistent within college peers compared to non-college peers, and the use of illegal drugs has tripled.

The excessive drinking of alcohol has become normalized to the point that we are neglecting it and moving straight to the drug epidemic. When it could be a cause to an issue that is affecting our nation. Now, I am not saying that we should jump straight to conclusions and reinstate the prohibition. Everything is good in moderation, even drugs and alcohol. We should just allow ourselves to be more aware of what is happening right in front of us.