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Dr. Ruth's Guide to College Life - Excepts

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Alcohol and Cigarettes

Some students choose a dorm that is alcohol and drug free. They've made a choice before they get to college that they want to maintain a certain lifestyle and they should be commended for it. If you are not in one of these dorms, you're going to face a certain amount of peer pressure to partake in alcohol and drug usage, whether or not you're sure you want to before getting to college.

People have been using substances to get "high" since time immemorial, so it's not up to me to be critical of anyone who wants to pursue such activities in moderation. In most cases, for college-age students, these activities are illegal: for all students when it comes to drugs, and for all but those over 21 regarding alcohol. Does that illegality have much of an effect? Apparently not, since getting high seems to be a major pastime on college campuses. Many college administrations are clamping down on these activities, in part because of some relatively new federal regulations, the Campus Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act, but also because their use has been abused. It's one thing to have a few drinks, even to get drunk once in a while, but to get so drunk that you pass out cold is just stupid. And to use drugs that can turn you into an addict is even more stupid.

I don't think most college students would overindulge if it weren't for peer pressure. Peer pressure could have gotten you into trouble in high school, but to some degree it was offset by parental authority. But there are no parents in college, and most administrations step in only when things get totally out of hand.

Q. I have a history of alcoholism in my family. Since I don't want to risk becoming an alcoholic myself, I've always stayed away from alcohol. I'm afraid that if I stay alcohol free in college I'll be a pariah and won't have any friends. What should I do?

A. Stick to your guns. You won't necessarily wind up an alcoholic from having a few drinks, but you must learn to stand up for yourself. While the "party animals" are always very visible on a campus, if you look around, you'll find plenty of people who don't like getting drunk. While they might not be as rowdy as the drinkers, at least you'll all be able to remember the good times you have and you won't be waking up with a hangover.

What offsets peer pressure in college is a growing maturity among the students as they get older. Some students have the maturity to resist overindulging when they first arrive, while others develop it along the way. Actually, becoming more mature, that is to say becoming an adult, is one of the reasons you leave home to go away to college. Otherwise it would be a lot cheaper to go to a college near home and live at home. But there are some college students who feel that they'll grow up after college and that their four years on campus is their last chance to "play." Certainly that's a more common attitude among freshmen, who suddenly find themselves living without adult supervision and are not yet ready to assume that role themselves.

If one of the main reasons you're going to college is to party, then you're not going to listen to me and all I can say is "Be careful." But for those of you who want to have a good time but still continue the process of turning into an adult, I'll give you some tips.

Be wary of "party animals." They usually don't hide what they're into, and if you start hanging around them, you're going to have difficulties not going along. When you first get to college, you have the opportunity to choose your friends, so choose them wisely.

I believe in white lies. If you find yourself in a situation where people are overindulging and you don't want to go off to sulk in your room, make up a medical condition that prevents you from having more than one or two drinks. If you can convince those around you that to you it's life threatening, they'll lay off. One of the reasons people drink is because it loosens their inhibitions. If you're not drinking, make sure you don't sit there sulking. If you're as loud and boisterous as the others, they'll have less of a reason to try to force you to imbibe too much. And if you find the sight of a roomful of drunks obnoxious, then quietly leave.

Case: Caroline

Caroline moved off campus when she was a sophomore, and while her dorm had been smoke free, one of her friends who shared the apartment with her was a chain smoker. The smoke bothered Caroline for the first few months, but then she got used to it, though she never got the desire to take up smoking herself. Summer came and Caroline went home to her parents, who did not smoke. After a few days, she found herself craving a cigarette. At first she didn't understand it, but then it hit her. Her body had become accustomed to the cigarette smoke from her roommate.

You might think that the danger of secondhand smoke is exaggerated, but Caroline's story illustrates that it is not. Even if you don't smoke yourself, and I of course would urge you not to, try not to live with a smoker because there are dangers even in coming in contact with burning tobacco in that way.

Continued Next

Dorm Life 101 | Morning Larks Versus Night Owls | Noise and Other Distractions | Alcohol and Cigarettes | Drug Use | The Sexual Side of Drugs and Alcohol | Food Issues | The mixing of the Sexes | Dorm Alternatives | Work Life | Your Residential Advisor

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Dr. Ruth's Guide to College Life
By Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer And Pierre Lehu

ISBN 1-56833-171-1




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