When I was in my early twenties, I worked with a colleague who was fond of describing his favorite weekend activity as drunking. “Not just drinking. My goal is to drink so much so fast that I won’t remember a single damn minute when I wake up the next morning.” He might have been joking, but I wasn’t confident.
I was reminded of that fellow when I read this first-person account from a young journalist, looking back on his days as a ‘frat rat’ at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. When blacked out binges, he reports, were an integral part of his life.
Not that his fraternity brothers seemed to object.
I thought drinking until I blacked out most nights was normal. College drinking culture masked my alcoholism.
Despite his frequent binges, the author claims that during that period, he “never — not once — considered myself an alcoholic.”
Why not? Because in college, so long as “…I was following conventional binge-drinking practices (don’t drink alone, don’t respond to emails drunk, don’t get caught by the police), I never seemed to attract unwanted attention.”
Which says something about college life. In that environment, alcohol abuse, no matter how excessive, was somehow acceptable. Normalized is the word.
Of course, that had to come to an end when he graduated. Suddenly, in the ‘real world’, “…my drinking problem became all too apparent.”
After considerable struggle, and several abortive attempts, he eventually found his way into recovery. But he knows that students today are carrying on in much the same vein — perhaps now with the help of other drugs. Stimulants such as Adderall, that allow them to stay awake and active, getting in even more trouble, rather than simply passing out on the frat house living room floor.
At the article’s close, a Dartmouth representative is given time to review the steps the college has taken in recent years towards addressing alcohol use among its students. The steps are about what we’d expect – lectures on dangerous drinking, screenings for high-risk behavior, a prohibition against hard liquor on campus.
Give them credit for trying. Although it must seem as if they have a long way to go.