For many students, this is a complex mental health issue

June 13, 2010

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I CERTAINLY commend Lawrence Bacow, president of Tufts University, for attending to the issue of binge drinking on campus (“Presidential sobriety check,’’ Page A1, June 6). This high-risk behavior has huge consequences. As a former substance abuse counselor at Tufts, I met with hundreds of students who experienced some of these consequences, which include hospitalization, being sexually assaulted, assaulting others, and being arrested.

Some students are drinking for the first time, and drink more than they realize. Some are physically sick or tired and react to the alcohol in more extreme ways than usual. These students probably will respond to a one-on-one discussion with Bacow about changing their behavior, and won’t show up again in his office.

The more complex situations usually involve some mental health issue. Many students are struggling with depression and anxiety and use alcohol to cope. Some get mental health treatment and are medicated, but continue to drink. Students with eating or weight issues will “save calories’’ by missing dinner so that they can have calories to “spend’’ on drinking, but become more intoxicated as a result. Still others are given alcohol by predatory students who then may sexually assault them.

I have seen students who try to manage mild psychosis with alcohol or who use it to deal with flashbacks from prior trauma, and some who are physically addicted to alcohol and can’t stop without treatment.

Until this kind of alcohol use and abuse is addressed as a mental health issue, many of these students, although they want to change, will not be able to do so.

Jeanne Haley

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