By: Alyssa Harbina

Starting college is an exciting time in any young adult’s life. The transition from childhood to adulthood commences its final stage, and the promise of independence is alluring to most. Leaving the metaphorical nest and heading off to university has long been considered the hallmark of maturity. That said, many young adults undergo a variety of emotions when it comes to thinking about leaving for college.

While the inevitable freedom from consistent parental supervision is definitely exciting, many prospective students are met with less than positive emotions surrounding the topic. Fear and anxiety about what lies ahead are often observed emotions among the college-age students undertaking this crucial step in life. Combatting preconceived notions about what college and college life is can also be a challenge. Regardless of whether the college experience garners positive or negative feedback, there is still definitely a stigma attached to college life.

College Movies And The Brain

It is no secret that Hollywood and the film industry have direct impact on a number of social issues. College life is no different. Often depicted as a combination of utter depravity and borderline alcoholism, college life gets a bad reputation as a result of several Hollywood films. For decades, films surrounding college life and its students have done remarkably well with audiences around the country. Some of these classics include like Animal House, Accepted, Van Wilder, and Neighbors—every generation receives its own “college movie”.

While often falling flat with professional movie critics, these films remain extremely popular with everyday movie goers. They usually rely on raunchy humor and a boy-meets-girl coming of age storyline that always errs on the side of exaggeration. While these films are intended as harmless fun, there could be a more insidious issue lurking beneath the lowbrow humor and regurgitated plots.

For the high school student-turned college acceptee, these films may be doing more harm than good. Typically, the age group starting college are 18 to 20-year olds, factoring in those who take a year off or choose to attend a community college first. This age group in particular is very impressionable and at-risk. The prefrontal cortex area of the brain, which is directly affected in the decision making process, is not fully developed until the mid 20s. That means, even though you’re legally considered an adult at 18, your brain is still growing and changing for several more subsequent years.

Due to this lack of development of the brain, many people in this age group are highly susceptible to peer pressure and continue to put much emphasis on social standings, regardless of potential harm it may cause. That is where the dangers of this film genre come into play.

Glorification of Binge Drinking

The film industry follows a basic formula when it comes to college movies. A lot of emphasis is put on drinking and partying as well as sexual experiences and exploration. The spotlight shown on the drinking and partying can be detrimental to a student going to college for the first time. They may believe that the only way to enjoy or fully participate in the college experience is by engaging in binge drinking, or heavy drinking, and taking illicit drugs. With binge drinking and drugging already such an issue on campuses across the nation, we’re left to speculate if that’s just how college life is or if its portrayal on screen has anything to do with these atrocious statistics.

According the National Institute of Health (NIH), almost 60 percent of all college students aged 18-22 drank within the last month, and of those 2 out of 3 engaged in binge drinking. Correlated to these episodes of drinking, 1,825 college students die annually whether from alcohol related injuries or car accidents. Also, related to these drinking statistics are the reports of assaults and sexual assaults. Approximately 696,000 students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking, and about 97,000 students per year report alcohol-related sexual assaults.

While the reality of binge drinking among college students is grim, the film industry paints it in a different light. Often depicted comically, binge drinking in movies is shown as fun, light-hearted, and innocent. With characters like John Belushi’s John Blutarsky (Animal House) being a silly drunk and his drunken antics highlighted in hilarity, it can be hard to decipher the fact that a real problem exists in this narrative.

Drugs on Campus

Besides the glorification of just binge drinking alcohol, many times the film industry also highlights another dark area of college life: drug use. While usually most of the emphasis in films are put on marijuana and a lovable character who smokes it regularly, currently drug use and abuse is rampant on campuses in the United States.

Marijuana itself is very prevalent on the list of college drug elite. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) states that marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit drug among college students. Approximately 1 in every 22 college students uses marijuana on a daily basis with 18.4 percent of college students using marijuana in the last month.

Besides marijuana, another type of drug is making its way up the list as the most commonly abuse. Study drugs, such as Vyvanse or Adderall, are becoming more prevalent among the academic community due to their efficiency when it comes to performing better scholastically. While these drugs are not typically shown in college movies, it is still a huge problem facing students across the country. Perhaps students are more willing to try substances in college because it’s depicted as the time of “exploration” for young adults.

Addiction and the College Student

Because so many view college as the time in life to party, experiment, and, perhaps, even go overboard, addiction among college students can often go unnoticed or undetected until it’s in full effect. The early warning signs may be attributed to just being a regular college student who just went a little bit too crazy the night before. Because college movies perpetuate the stigma of college being a place where binge drinking and drugging is “normal”, many addicts and alcoholics may find themselves struggling with no real answer for what’s actually happening to them. Under the guise of innocent partying and the college lifestyle, many addicts and alcoholics are being presented with just the platform their addiction needs to take over.

After years of addiction on campus being swept under the rug, with the addicts and alcoholics forced to dropout of school to seek help, finally some reformation of university practices is being seen. Implementation of substance abuse programs on campus has been becoming more commonplace, with administrations desperate to address this severe issue facing their students. These schools are creating safe spaces for students to talk about the truth behind their drinking and drugging. The line between “normal” and “alcoholic” is increasingly blurred by using college as an excuse to binge drink and party, and students need to understand the stark difference between the two without the interference of pop culture and social pressure.

Are You Struggling?

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