Myth #1: It’s too late to quit cigarettes — the damage is already done.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who have quit smoking see improvements regardless of how long they have been smoking . The body begins the healing process just 20 minutes after an individual quits smoking. After two to five years of not smoking, the risk of a stroke reduces to that of a nonsmoker. After 10 years of not smoking, the risk of lung cancer is cut in half.
For college students, the prospect of quitting might seem particularly daunting, as many use smoking to cope with the high-stress environment. However, quitting smoking is easier for the young: a February 2008 study in the American Journal of Public Health has shown that smokers aged 18 to 24 are much more likely to successfully quit smoking tobacco than older smokers. 84 percent of young smokers, compared to 66 percent of older smokers, reported seriously attempting to quit smoking, and 8.5 percent of young smokers, compared to only 5 percent of older smokers were able to quit for six months or longer.
Although quitting smoking is difficult, kicking the habit while still young will be easier than quitting later on in life, and the health risks of smoking will be greatly mitigated, creating a powerful incentive for college-aged smokers to quit.
Myth #2: Prescription drugs have few health risks because they are legal.
According to the Huffington Post, many students use prescription drugs appropriately to treat common disorders like Attention Deficit Disorder. Amphetamines like Adderall and methylphenidates like Ritalin increase the user’s focus by stimulating the flow of dopamine, a chemical that plays a major role in the brain’s reward and pleasure regions, to the brain. This increased dopamine flow makes it easier for users to ignore minor distractions, ameliorating their concentration for a short period.
However, many students are not prescribed these substances to aid their own studying. Though the Food and Drug Administration regulates these drugs, they can still negatively affect users’ health.
Common symptoms and dangers of amphetamine overuse include rapid breathing, tremor, loss of coordination, irritability, anxiousness, restlessness, delirium, panic, paranoia, hallucinations, impulsive behavior, aggressiveness, withdrawal and addiction, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
According to Dependency.net, methylphenidate is known to interfere with blood pressure and cause digestive problems and loss of appetite. There are also important psychological implications in abusing ADHD/ADD drugs such as Ritalin, as dependency becomes common when they are part of one’s normal routine.
Other prescription drugs commonly implicated in substance abuse include benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, and opioid pain relievers, which are at the center of the national consciousness as lethal overdoses have become an epidemic. Regardless, prescriptions for these drugs are still legally given by doctors and medical professionals.
Myth #3: Using alcohol to relieve stress has no long-term consequences.
Forming a dependence and addiction to alcohol is a serious risk. In college settings, alcohol is often used as a coping mechanism for stress. While the “work hard, play hard” mentality is not necessarily destructive, the cycle of high stress during the week followed by intense alcohol consumption can contribute to a student becoming reliant on drinking as a coping mechanism. Eventually, a student risks becoming psychologically or even physically dependent on alcohol.
Patrick Kilcarr, Ph.D., the director of the Center for Personal Development, works through Health Eduction Services to inform students about substance use and abuse and to provide counseling for those struggling on campus. Kilcarr said in an email to The Hoya cyclical substance use has the potential to develop into abuse.
“Stress is certainly one of the ingredients associated with alcohol and other drug use,” Kilcarr wrote. “If we are stressed and, we drink or use some other substance, the stress temporarily is diminished. If this is done enough over time, a pattern of reducing stress through using occurs which then can develop into varying levels of dependency.”
Myth #4: Only irresponsible people engage in irresponsible drug use.
Students at elite universities such as Georgetown may believe themselves to be too smart and disciplined to abuse drugs. Yet even students who demonstrate self-control through academic success can fall victim to addiction.
According to a 2017 study at Arizona State University, rates of drug addiction among students at elite universities are two to three times higher than national norms. The stress and pressure to succeed that students experience at these highly competitive institutions may contribute to the high abuse rates, according to Tom Workman, fellow for the Education Department’s Higher Education Center for Alcohol Drug and Prevention Program, in a 2011 interview with the digital media company Inside Higher Ed.
Casual drug use can quickly escalate into abuse with serious consequences, as Kilcarr outlined with hypothetical, yet all-too-common, scenarios.
“A sophomore pre-med major, after experiencing excellent academic achievement during freshman year, begins to major in smoking and sees social and academic performance begin tumbling down hill,” Kilcarr wrote. “A senior who believed their degree of drinking would change when they graduate is fired from a high-end job for consistent tardiness. A student who began using their roommate’s prescription Adderall became so addicted, they had to leave school for a year, never fully feeling engaged when they returned.”
Myth #5: Addiction is a choice. Treatment is ineffective.
Substance abuse and substance abuse disorders are frequently held in contempt and stigmatized by others, resulting in detrimental effects for struggling individuals who might feel ashamed to seek treatment. Studies have shown that stigmatization of drug users is a major factor that prevents individuals from seeking and completing addiction treatment.
Getting help for a drug problem can be a frightening step, Kilcarr said.
“Individuals who are struggling with dependency or addiction issues need to realize they don’t need to suffer!” Kilcarr wrote. “Moving away from use requires changing fundamental ways of thinking and acting regarding self and substances. This certainly can feel daunting for anyone.”
Yet overcoming dependency is a battle worth fighting, as its long-term results are massive.
“The fact is that with enough distance from using, people begin to reengage their talent, their belief in self and moving toward what they truly want in life. They begin to feel far more balanced. Stress will always be there. Learning skills to address the stress can be life giving,” Kilcarr wrote.
There is no shame in receiving treatment, as addiction rests beyond the scope of individual control. Treatment can be effective for many and has allowed people to regain their lives. Defeating addiction is not easy, and, as Kilcarr wrote, “requires a great deal shifting in a person’s life.” But recovery is important and possible for everyone, especially when they are surrounded by support and love.