To Combat Stress, Some Students Look to Drugs, Alcohol

This article discusses the stress that many college students deal with, and how this can lead to drinking and smoking. Included are interviews with various WSU students who share their experiences.

By Laura Murphy


Bridget, a freshman at Worcester State University, holds a job, is a biology major on the pre-PA track, and has an active social life. From the outside looking in, it seems like she has the best of all these worlds, but under the surface, that’s quite the opposite. When asked to rate her stress level on a 1-10 scale (ten being the most stressed), she rated her stress at a seven.

“It’s just a lot” she said. “One aspect of my life always has to be compromised. If I want to go out, I have to sacrifice doing well in a class, or if I want to do well in a class, I have to sacrifice my job.”

Bridget recently had to withdraw from her biology class because she was failing. She feels “completely overwhelmed at least 70 percent [of the time].”

While college can be the time of some students’ lives, many at Worcester State are finding themselves overwhelmed with things like schoolwork, homework, jobs, and social lives, leading them to feel completely exasperated, and partying may not be helping.

It is no secret that college students are under stress. Balancing heavy course loads, jobs, and having a life on campus can be overwhelming. On top of this, they are expected to maintain good grades, be involved on campus, be physically active, and have an active social life. For some students, this simply is not attainable.

According to a study done by the Worcester State Center for Mental Health, 92 percent of college students have felt completely overwhelmed this past semester, and that doesn’t necessarily mean just the occasional stress over a test or a paper, but sometimes even complete, head-under-water overwhelmed.

A study by NBC also showed that 41 percent of students are dealing with anxiety, and 25 percent are being treated for anxiety. That means almost one half of all college students are dealing with clinical anxiety, which is just one more thing students have to deal with on top of already taxing schedules.

Bridget, whose last name is left out because underage drinking is illegal, says that she has at least two hours of homework a night, not including studying. She said she gets a maximum of six hours of sleep a night. That’s not a lot, considering most teenagers and young adults need closer to 8-9 hours to be considered fully rested. Bridget works as a server at Hooters, and is sometimes at work until 2 a.m. on school nights. Because college is so expensive, a lot of students have jobs to have extra cash or to help pay for tuition.

Bridget is not alone: Another eight freshmen at Worcester State interviewed for this article also said that they got around six-to-seven hours of sleep each night, with some saying they slept as little as three hours per night. All of the students said that they wished that they got more sleep.

According to the NBC study, teenagers and college students are more stressed than adults. Adults rated their stress levels at a 5.1 on average, while teenagers rated theirs at a 5.8 average. When other freshmen were asked to rate their stress levels, on average, most said at about a 4-5.

The way students deal with stress varies.

“Do not procrastinate,” says Anderson, another freshman and biology major on the pre-med track. Anderson says he can avoid stress avoiding procrastination. He also holds a part-time job, works out regularly, and spends time with his friends. He described his classes as “hard, but okay,” and rated his stress level at a 4.

“I’m just very good at managing my time,” said Anderson. “When work needs to be done I do it. I schedule a time to workout, a time to eat, and a time to study. I spend time with my friends or do other things I like when I have free time.”

Anderson and Bridget seem to have similar lives and responsibilities, but Bridget is much more stressed than Anderson. One reason could be that Anderson does not work on weekdays, or that he has one less lab course than Bridget. However, another difference stood out above all: their drinking and smoking habits.

“I drink at least four times a week, and smoke three times a week on average,” said Bridget. She described her drinking as more than three drinks an hour–binge drinking. When asked the same question, Anderson said, “I drink maybe every other week.” He also said that when he drinks it’s usually binge drinking, but he drinks significantly less. He also said that he never smokes marijuana and that he exercises regularly.

For some college students, one of the ways to deal with stress is to drink or smoke. Five people were asked about how they dealt with stress for this article, and four of them said that when they were overwhelmed, they had the desire to have a drink.

So, does this mean that binge drinking and smoking adds to your stress levels? That might not necessarily be true. A member of the baseball team explained that he drinks about three times a week, and on average has about thirteen beers during one session of drinking. He rated his stress levels at a four.

While time management skills are key when navigating college, students who manage their time well still find times when they feel completely exasperated with school.

“I just wish there was more time in the day sometimes,” explained Sydney, another biology major. She does not hold a part time job, does not belong to a club or on campus organization, and does not have a concentration or minor.

She does work very hard to keep her grades up though, because she hopes to transfer to another school. She does drink occasionally, and said that she does smokes marijuana. She believes she also gets an average of seven to eight hours of sleep nightly.

Jess, an RA in Dowden and the Vice President of Active Minds, talked about alcohol use among students.

“Like most things, it’s not a big problem if you use it in moderation,” she said. “It’s when it gets in the way of important things like school work that it becomes a problem.”

She also talked about ways to get help if your drinking is a problem. She suggested going to a counselor, friend, family, or anyone you trust.

For students at Worcester State, there are many resources available to help with navigating college.

One way for students to get help is the counseling center. The counseling center is open and ready to make appointments for students. They also regularly hold events to raise awareness about mental health, to assist students in time management, and anything else they can do to help students.

Just recently, the counseling center had an event for students called the “mental health check-in,” where students could go and talk to counselors, learn about mental health, and figure out methods of taking care of themselves. There are also RAs who are specially trained in helping students with issues such as stress, anxiety, and mental health.

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