The rampant drinking culture that seems to plague most college campuses creates a kind of drinking security blanket. Binge drinking is glorified and stories of blacking out serve as badges of honor. While it appears as though the typical college student can drink like a fish and go on to lead a normal life, many students suffer from alcohol dependency. The problem is that it is hard to tell the difference between the two in an environment steeped in the substance.
Boston College in particular is often cited as having a “drinking culture.” While most college campuses have a significant drinking culture, there are a few factors which put BC above the national averages for students who engage in drinking, particularly underage binge drinking. Many BC students come from private, Jesuit schools or affluent families where, statistically, the likelihood of having already engaged in underage drinking before coming to BC is high.
That being said, BC is a highly residential campus, so the university administration is able to keep a close eye on its students. This means that the university is likely more aware of the drinking that occurs on campus. It also means that the university is probably more equipped to address drinking, particularly if students enter into a dangerous situation.
Statistically, students who attend college drink more than their peers who do not. However, these statistics change once students graduate, and the likelihood of college graduates becoming heavy drinkers is lower than those who did not attend college. College serves as what is called a “protective factor.” This is not to say that drinking in college makes you less likely to become an alcoholic. It is, instead, a commentary on the link between education, accessibility to resources, and safe drinking.
So which students at BC are alcoholics? National data shows that 6% of college populations have alcohol dependency. At a school with a little over 9,000 undergraduates, according to the national estimate, that means roughly 540 students would suffer from addiction, which is a staggering number. According to the DSM-IV, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental and Health Disorders, someone who suffers from alcohol abuse fails “to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home” due to alcohol consumption. Obviously, this could manifest itself in many ways, which is why identifying someone with an alcohol problem is difficult.
Nicolas Sperry, a licensed mental health counselor, is the assistant director of Recovery and Support Programs here at BC. When prompted about alcoholism on campus, he responded, “A critical thing I like to point out is the term ‘alcoholic’ is not something we can put on someone else, it is not a diagnostic term; it’s a label that some choose for themselves and some don’t.” Instead of labeling people and forcing them to receive treatment, the Recovery and Support Programs at BC are entirely voluntary.
If a student has had a significant amount of sober time, wants the support of the school, and is willing to support other students, they can apply for Recovery Housing, one of the support programs. Support Programs offered include ski trips, sober tailgates, movie nights, and other fun, substance-free activities. Additionally, recovering students at BC are involved in Boston's young people’s Alcoholic’s Anonymous community, providing additional support and relationships within the greater city.
These Support Programs, while perhaps not overly advertised, are well-developed at BC. The Support Programs are a collaboration of many departments at BC, and all counseling services are well aware of them. An additional resource is the alcohol abuse phone line, which offers counseling via a phone conversation 24/7 at (617)-552-4000.
While no one sets out to become an alcoholic, many people put themselves in a position that leads to alcohol abuse and dependence. Mr. Sperry insisted that he is not “preaching sobriety," rather; he is helping to illuminate a problem that could very well be plaguing our peers. While BC may never rid of its label as a “drinking school,” it is certainly a school that is proactive about helping those who are affected by the drinking culture.