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What some Harvard students might not know are the fears other students may have around developing substance dependency issues.
College, for many, is our first time away from the pressures of home. As a result, students often experiment with substances. In a survey of 400 people, 82 percent stated that it is even normal to experiment with alcohol or drugs in college. Few would argue against social drinking. However, this leaves students like me who have had negative lived experiences with drugs and alcohol in an awkward position.
Substance dependency and addiction problems are omnipresent. From the extremes of heroin and opioids to milder alcohol and weed, the United States is no stranger to substance abuse. With 65 percent of our prison population having an active substance use issue and an additional 20 percent under the influence while committing their crime, it is also easy to see the pipeline between addiction and quality of life. Spending time in prison or falling prey to addiction can make it more difficult to lead a fulfilling life. It has the capability to ruin lives, relationships, and ambitions. There is a crisis in the United States. But is there a crisis at Harvard?
More than most places, college campuses typically teem with alcohol and other illicit substances. And Ivy Leagues like Harvard are not the exception. Clandestine behavior nestles its way into our dorms and campuses. Students looking for a social lubricant over the weekend or a mental intoxicant after a day’s stress can find it at Harvard. But, this does not change the fact that even under the influence of simpler substances, students with histories of family dependency or addiction must rationalize their reluctance towards substance use, especially in social settings.
My father was incarcerated eight different times for substance-related issues. His addictions, while not necessarily ever-present, were still subtly perceptible: present in the way he would choose to drive while intoxicated, or in how he became a gaunt figure towards the end of his life. There are always signs, despite how hard an individual tries to mask them.
So, naturally, there is a great deal of anxiety surrounding dependency fears, even at a supposed haven like Harvard. Even if addiction arises, Harvard students’ hush-hush, sensationalized, and naive approach to drugs and alcohol results in student fear to seek help and relative misuse of substances. The haven at Harvard is flawed.
Moreover, those with family addiction problems or past histories feel guilt. Harvard offers a bubble. Despite many Harvard students’ personal awareness of the illicit substances that surround them, a disproportionately low number of drug and alcohol offenses are reported by the Harvard University Police Department. In part, this is commendable. It means that the University does not take a punitive approach to drug and alcohol abuse compared to the rest of the United States. Nevertheless, students with histories tinged by drug abuse are left with moral dilemmas.
I once watched my father die from drug use. I now am in an environment where “gateway drugs” are widespread and uncritically consumed. I can read about my father’s misconduct with alcohol on the Indiana Offender Database. I now regularly see students incapacitated by alcohol on weekends. I am left ambivalent.
I do not have an answer for how to tackle drug and substance abuse for students with experiences like mine nor for students who may be currently fighting addiction themselves. It is not an easy issue to face, and the inner conflict that arises for such students in situations with alcohol or drugs is difficult to grapple with. Navigating addiction is not a normal part of the college experience. The choices these students make in such situations are diverse, unique, and contingent on past experience and current pressures.
While I am ambivalent, another person with tough memories tied to drug use might not be. Perhaps the best answer right now is to be constantly aware of who you are, your surroundings, and to recognize the strength of your limitations. And hopefully, as “what some Harvard students might not know” turns into “what some Harvard students are finally aware of,” the load will be easier to carry.
Jordan R. Robbins, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Leverett House. His column “What Some Harvard Students Don't Know …” appears on alternate Thursdays.
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