The cursor of a blank white page blinks mockingly as Tyler Doyle waits for inspiration. Doyle leans on his chair and grabs a half-full tumbler of whiskey.
It’s another all-nighter filled with homework and Doyle is on his third glass.
“The amount of work and crap that I have on my plate seems so unreal some days,” he said. “If it’s not one thing, it’s another. There are plenty of times when I think I might as well as be drowning in all of it. That’s when I pick up my Maker’s Mark and keep chuggin’ along.”
Doyle is in his third year at Southwestern Oklahoma State University, working toward his degree in developmental psychology. While he works on his introductory thesis in his one-bedroom, half-bath apartment, he is one of many who travel the same path.
The Addiction Center for Alcohol says alcohol addiction, also known as alcoholism, is marked by a craving for alcohol and the inability to stop drinking — even when it causes extreme personal or social harm.
“Signs of an alcohol addiction include frequently drinking more than intended, wanting to stop drinking but being unable to, developing a tolerance to alcohol, feeling symptoms of withdrawal when stopping, letting personal and professional responsibilities flounder in favor of drinking and spending an extreme amount of time trying to get and drink alcohol,” the center notes.
Yet the idea that students between the ages of 18 and 25 are drinking on a regular basis is a notion proven time and time again throughout the years.
Stephanie Alberts, a computer sciences sophomore at Oklahoma City Community College, is a prime example of this demographic. She said her average school week involves a combination of strong cocktails ranging from four to 11 drinks a week.
“I mean, it’s just something that you’re supposed to do, right?” Alberts said. “It just helps with all the homework loads that keep coming on. Sometimes I feel like drinking is the only thing that keeps me going without freaking the hell out on school.”
Alberts said that she started to drink near the end of her high school senior year. Now at the age of 26, Stephanie uses alcohol to “loosen up and work better on assignments.”
“College has always been the place where you drink, have fun and get an education. That’s what we were supposed to believe from TV and movies,” she said. “I sometimes wonder what life would be like without college. Would I drink nearly as much? I don’t know.”
The idea of drinking while in college is not cornered into studying habits and social occasions. Not every college student is the same yet all habits stem from somewhere and the correlation leads to the stresses of a collegiate led life.
It’s 10:47 a.m. and Doyle can be found in the kitchen clinking through the various mugs he has stored in his cluttered cabinet. As he continues to look with one hand, he uses the other to fish out the Jamison whiskey that’s stored in the adjacent cabinet.
As the bitter, black coffee pours into the mug, so does the booze.
“Look,” he said. “It’s not as though I need it. It’s just a good pick-me-up to start the morning off just right.” He walks past me with a grimace of a grin. “I won’t lie to you though, there’s nothing like a helluva hangover that hits you right as you wake up. It’s not every morning but you get it.”
When asked if he does this every time he said he needs a “pick-me-up.”
“I mean, it doesn’t hurt. If my family comes to visit from out of state or a buddy or two is acting up, it doesn’t hurt to have a drink in your hand to help out,” he said.
According to a study by the University of Minnesota, the likelihood of an increased usage in alcohol rises when the variable of college is introduced.
“In some cases, students arrive at the university with drinking problems that have reached the level of addiction,” the study said. “Parents are often unaware of the drinking habits their student has developed, and the university has no way of screening for alcohol use during the college admissions process.”
As though there isn’t enough to deal with, the average student also has to work toward a higher education and make decisions that will ultimately affect the rest of their life while try to sustain a semblance of a social life and financially provide for themselves.
It’s no wonder that alcohol seems to be the solution in a bottle.
“I will tell you this: my grades have taken a stumble a few times but they always bounce back the way they should,” Doyle said. “I think that I write better and think a little more fluidly when I have some drinks. I’m not so critical of myself when I’m sober. Sure, helps to meet other people in the process too.”
Doyle eventually had friends join the table and order their drinks as the waitress made her way towards the group. Orders of vodka and sprite and a German beer on tap made any waters on the table to be left ignored.
For most people, a drink, much like anything in life, is fine in moderation. But a drink to cope with the pressures of collegiate education, financial obligations and the stresses of a rapidly racing world can lead to detrimental dependency.
Alcohol was never meant to be a therapist or a savior.
Not all college students use alcohol in this sense. In the University of Minnesota study, it was reported that 74.4 percent use alcohol to “break the ice” and to “enhance social activity.”
But where fun arises, so does excess in many cases.
According to the website, collegedrinkinngprevention.org in 2015, 1,825 college students across the nation died due to alcohol-related accidents including injuries and car accidents. Alongside those statistics, 696,000 students have been assaulted by another drunk student and 97,000 students have reported experiencing date rape or sexual assault due to alcohol usage.
Police across the nation have played their part in combating the side-effects to alcoholism. Lieutenant Wayne Barney is the supervisor for the Sex Crimes Division of the Oklahoma City Police Department. For five years, Barney and his division have worked towards making the threat of sexual assault and rape disappear.
“We work across most areas of the city,” Lt. Barney said. “But it’s sad to say that rapes and sexual assaults are pretty regular in the city. Alcoholism plays a massive part in college kids anywhere from 18 years of age to 24 or 25.”
Barney believes that alcoholism is bred from places such as college. Due to the overwhelming stress and the unsure nature of people still trying to find their way in the world, alcohol might seem to be the answer to numb it all.
“For those who’re dealing with this I would ask that you seek help,” Barney said. “I know it’s not the easiest thing to do but limit your exposure to it all. Advise your parents if it’s become enough of an issue to ruin your life or someone else’s.”
So why is it socially acceptable for alcoholism to be one of the fundamental cornerstones in students?
Alcoholism is not a product of nature.
After all, each American values the day they turn 21 so that they can legally buy alcohol for themselves instead of going through back channels.
Our alcohol dependencies were taught from those who came before us.
It was January 20, 1920, when the free flow of alcohol was stopped by the law. The 18th Amendment was ratified and the nation watched helplessly as their casks of beer and liquor were smashed in the streets.
Prohibition, however, couldn’t prevent the acts of organized crime and bootleggers helped equip the American public with the liquor they so desperately wanted. Thirteen years later, after a decade of bloody barbarism, president President Franklin D. Roosevelt repealed Prohibition with the 21st Amendment.
It wouldn’t be until 1984 that then-President Ronald Reagan raised the legal drinking age in the United States to 21.
“The bill we’re gathered to sign today reflects the will of the American people. It takes the battle to stop drunk driving one crucial step further,” Reagan said while signing the bill. “And permit me to tell you why I believe that this bill is so important.”
Even while the legal age was raised, the statistics and fatalities still rise. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism concluded that 15.1 million adults (18 or older) had an alcohol dependency issue in 2015.
It would be easy to say that excessive alcohol issues reside only in the youthful. But that which is easy to say should always be met with skepticism.
Long term alcoholism can be stemmed from years of social drinking and the reliability of social standards that condemned it in the first place.
That’s the problem: if people continuously allow addictions to be a normality, it will never be expulsed from society. The idea that people can get rid of a vice is near impossible but to replace one vice for a safer alternative is more viable.
Eventually, Tyler Doyle stumbles into his home and work his way to the desk. The half-written psychology paper sits there open and blinking.
He keeps checking his phone and setting it back on the table. Methodically, he reaches for it almost every hour.
“I’m sorry,” he slurred. “I sometimes wonder if my parents or grandparents or someone is going to text. I may be workin’ and I may be drunk…but I don’t want to miss them.”
By the time he goes to sleep, there is not a single text or call.
Roughly four hours go by. The document is riddled with red squiggly lines, but it is done all the same. Doyle staggers back to his bed to begin his day in only five hours.
He sits up in his desk chair with a lackluster grin. Though his smile shows that the pressures of pushing world aren’t weighing on his shoulders, his drunken eyes say otherwise.
“I know that’s it’s not a good habit to drink as much as I do but…” Doyle pauses to collect his thoughts. “I don’t know how to do this without something to hang onto. I’ll quit drinking as much probably when my schooling isn’t as crazy. I-I can only hope that not everyone does what I do. That might be the worst.”
OCCC, like many other colleges throughout the state, offer counseling services to combat addiction to alcohol and other addictive substances. Organizations such as Student Support Services are offered throughout the year including the summer semesters at OCCC.
Alcoholism is not just for the 9 to 5 workers of the American workforce. It reaches as far as colleges across the nation and it’ll continue sink its claws into its’ people until we acknowledge the fact that it’s there.