Recap of Substance Abuse Prevention Week at U.Va.: "I'll Remember My Last Home Game"

December 03, 2014
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Alaina Segura

At universities across the country, drinking plays an extremely prominent role in the social lives of students.  With eighty percent of college students drinking, and half of these students consuming alcohol through binge drinking,  it is important to become educated about this issue, especially while immersed in an environment with such a large drinking culture. Substance Abuse Prevention Week, which took place from Nov. 17-21 this year at U.Va., seeks to increase awareness of both the short-term and long-term effects of alcohol and drugs, in hopes of increasing safety around Grounds.

One of the main events was the annual Susan Grossman Memorial Speaker, who this year was Dr. Aaron White, the program director for underage and college drinking research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.  His talk, which was co-sponsored by the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center and given on Nov.18, titled “What Happened? Alcohol, memory blackouts, and the brain,” discussed the neurobiological effects of consuming alcohol. Intoxication, he explained, can disrupt the brain functions in charge of motor coordination, impulse control, decision-making, the formation of emotional responses, and the ability to consolidate memories.  Logically, the combination of these inhibited functions can potentially lead to very serious accidents. White also discussed social effects and trends of alcohol consumption amongst college students. Nationwide, binge drinking has decreased in male students, but has increased or stayed the same for female students.  He did not have any explanation for why this might be, but suggested that further research should be pursued to understand this cultural shift. White is admittedly not an expert on the relationship between alcohol and sexual assault.  However, he brought up the compelling point that the No. 1 date-rape drug is not flunitrazepam, or roofies, but alcohol.

“When you drink, and all these brain functions are debilitated, the ability to consent is gone. It isn’t roofies that college students are using.  Alcohol is what is used to facilitate sex.”

This thought-provoking comment certainly makes us reevaluate where and with whom we drink. On Nov. 19, the Hoos in Recovery Panel, three members of the Charlottesville community, two of whom were U.Va. students, told their stories of addiction and their path to recovery.  The panelists, whose full names were not mentioned in an effort to maintain privacy, each discussed their struggle with understanding the line between social and binge drinking. One panelist recalled how her sole concern was consuming the greatest amount of alcohol possible and would intentionally drink on an empty stomach.  One night, this caused her to spend hours vomiting and left her unable to eat for two days because her esophagus was so badly bruised. Another panelist, Henry, explained that his addiction started with alcohol, and then he began experimenting with harder drugs.  As most of his time revolved around partying, rather than his grades, he began failing his courses and eventually entered rehab. “The amount of things you wish you could have said to yourself, now that you’re on the other side is unbelievable,” he said. After reflecting on their addiction, the panelists also commented on how recovery has transformed their lives for the better. One panelist admitted, “The most important thing my recovery has taught me is self-care.  I now understand that my physical and mental health has to come before everything else.” Henry, who works as a DJ at a local bar, in addition to being a student, explained how he stays sober while still having a social life.

“I am absolutely able to enjoy parties sober now.  The confidence that I once had when I drank, I now have because of self-esteem that I’ve developed because of my recovery.”

With their inspiring stories, these panelists brought to light the reality of alcoholism in our community and especially among our fellow students. There is a tremendous sense of autonomy and excitement that we feel when we move out of our childhood homes, become free to make our own choices and begin to live life on our own terms.  College is, of course, a time to enjoy this new-found independence. However, as emphasized by Substance Abuse Prevention Week, it is extremely important to know your own limits and watch out for others in order to keep our Grounds and our fellow Hoos safe.

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