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Booze, books and the balance: When drinking goes too far

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When he came to college, Michael Langley spent so much time drinking alcohol that he recalls failing every class his first semester and eventually getting kicked out of school.

He said he thinks he got a 0.0 GPA when he was a freshman at the University of Akron, but he didn’t realize that he had been drinking so heavily. He didn’t start consuming alcohol until that first semester, but said once he did, it just felt right

“I was an athlete in high school and I was pretty straight-edged, didn’t do anything wrong. I remember drinking for the first time with friends (in college) and just really feeling like I fit in, like I had missed a huge part of life — looking back in maybe an abnormal way,” Langley said.

Langley never attended Ohio State, but his story at Akron is one that’s repeated at colleges across the country.

After all, feelings of missing out are normal when a student has a problem abusing alcohol, said Shivani Edwards, the assistant director of clinical services at OSU’s Counseling and Consultation Service.

“I think that we know that there’s a fair number of students that drink alcohol on a regular basis during the college experience,” she said. “One of the things that we tend to look for are those who have those negative consequences.

“Over a long period of time, you’re certainly going to have an impact on your classes, on your relationships, on your health,” she said of drinking heavily.

Edwards said about 46 percent of undergraduate students binge drink or have done something considered binge drinking in the past two weeks at any given point. That means having about four drinks in two hours for women, or five drinks in that time for men, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

With an undergraduate population of 44,741 students at OSU’s main campus, that statistic means more than 20,500 students could have binge drank in the last two weeks.

There can be serious repercussions — drinking alcohol led to Langley losing relationships with his family, getting arrested and going through rehab more than once.

“When we all get to college, you just want to be accepted. It’s a new place, you want to fit in,” he said.

“I felt, like, really awkward and I think alcohol helped me fit in — it gave me that potential to fit in. It sort of medicated the awkward feelings that you have, being in a new place, in a new social environment. That was always the allure of it.”

It’s been eight years since Langley last had any alcohol and in that time, he finished school and got his master’s degree from a school in Berkeley, Calif., but it was a long road to that point.

He said in hindsight, he had a problem with alcohol right away — he just didn’t realize it.

“I didn’t drink the same way my friends at the time were drinking. I was getting in a lot of fights, getting arrested,” Langley said.

One of those arrests was for driving under the influence of alcohol when he was a sophomore in college. Langley had been drinking, got in his car and drove the wrong way up a highway ramp. The head-on collision that ensued didn’t cause any injuries, and he said it didn’t give him a wake-up call either, despite the fact he had to go through court-ordered rehab.

“You can always rationalize, ‘I won’t drive next time. I’ll hang out with different people,’” Langley said.

According to the FBI, DUIs were the third-highest number of arrests reported in 2013 out of any crime. More than 1.1 million people were arrested.

In Ohio, there were more than 35,600 arrests for DUIs in 2013.

The first offense for operating a vehicle while intoxicated in Ohio — the state’s name for a DUI offense — can result in three days to six months in jail, and a license suspension for six months to three years. To get an OVI, a driver must have a blood alcohol content of .08 percent, or .02 percent if the driver is under 21.

After his offense, Langley kept drinking, and even if he hung around different people, it didn’t matter. He would miss class because he spent the whole weekend out and couldn’t function by Monday. He was about 23 years old and had been in school for a few years when he got kicked out of the University of Akron.

“It was horrible  — that feeling of failure, just not knowing what the future held,” Langley said. “I was working a part time job in retail at the time and was just scraping by in an apartment. I just always saw myself as a college grad and it was like the world came crashing down.”

He said he thinks it was about the third time — he couldn’t remember for sure because of the drinking — that he went to rehab when he finally got and stayed sober.

“I think the lowest point sort of was wanting to quit really badly but knowing that I wasn’t going to be able to. Going to bed at night after I’ve humiliated myself again or after I got in trouble, but knowing the next day I was going to do the same thing over again,” he said.

His rehab involved him going through detox, which he said was a horrible experience both physically and mentally.

“You’re very, very sick,” he said. “Emotionally and mentally, all the things you did, all the things that you did to stay drunk or the things you did while partying resurface in your head like nightmares. The thing that you use — alcohol or drugs to make those things go away — you don’t have those anymore. Everything you’re ashamed of is right in front of your face.”

Detox was only one of the steps in his journey to leading a more normal life. He had a lot of strained relationships he said took time to repair.

“I kind of burnt all the bridges. I was just so erratic and so sort of unable to be a good friend or a good son, so I had to rebuild a lot of relationships,” he said.

The NIAAA said that it’s the negative consequences of excessive drinking while in college that can be the problem more than the drinking itself.

Every year:

  • 1,825 students between 18 and 24 years old die from alcohol-related injuries.
  • About 599,000 students are unintentionally injured while intoxicated.

Langley went back to school when he was 24 at a different university in a different state, ready to start fresh. But he realized there was still a lot he had to learn.

“I was taking English 101 with undergrads, and it just dawned on me I didn’t know very basic  things about academic life and social life that they knew. I had abused alcohol and drugs all the time they were maturing,” he said, not elaborating on the drugs he used. “I remember just being so embarrassed at the struggle I had coming back as a 24 year old. I had missed out on so much and it was apparent.”

Edwards, at OSU’s Counseling and Consultation Service, said some students can see their problems renewed after rehab or therapy if they come back to a college or university after leaving to deal with a drinking problem.

“It can be very difficult for anyone, no matter the setting when you come back. You still have a lot of responsibilities and expectations and the stress is greater,” Edwards said.

OSU has programs to help those who think they might have a problem. Counseling and Consultation Service offers individual and group therapy sessions, and there’s a Collegiate Recovery Community with an on-campus residence hall where students who are in recovery from addiction can live together.

CCS also offers a group support session called Success Not Excess for students who have problems with drugs or alcohol. Edwards said interest in the group varies, but about 14 students have expressed interest or participated in some way as of the beginning of December.

Edwards added that drinking is different for everyone.

“While drinking might be perceived as something that’s part of the college experience, it’s not always a negative experience,” she said.

Langley said for him, drinking was a huge part of what he thought the college experience was all about. He said it can be great for some people, but for him, drinking caused his first stint in college to end tragically. He just moved to North Carolina to start a job and said if he would have thought about it several years ago, he couldn’t imagine being where he is today — living in an apartment on his on, having a steady life and being a college graduate.

“The people that know that they have a problem but continue to drink … what I would say to them is all the balls are going to drop eventually,” Langley said. “If you can go get help and let the balls drop … if you can dictate it, it’s going to go much better. It’s going to get bad no matter how you look at it.”

This article is the second in a series about alcohol use on Ohio State’s campus. The series was made possible by the generosity of Ohio State and The Lantern alumna Patty Miller.

 

2 comments

  1. Drink at Too’s!!!

  2. Not sure what the point of this “investigative” series is. Unimpressed.

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