Though the visual stereotype of drug users tends to be scary, like the crack heads that wander your local friendly ghetto, the college experience generally defies this image of drug use. Though there are now federal grants and loans, college largely remains a coming-of-age experience of the privileged in our society, with the percentage of Americans holding bachelor degrees hovering around a mere 25 percent.
College is a kind of strange middle ground between adolescence and full-blown adulthood. While 75 percent of America ponies up after high school to get a “real” job, college students tend to have unpaid internships, or a mere 10-20 hour work week at a job that typically allows study time on the clock in the four to six years they spend in undergrad.
According to a comprehensive study conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse in 2005, 36.6 percent of college students consumed some kind of illicit substance, and 33.3 percent said they smoked marijuana. Both of these numbers are up six percentage points from the first report released in 1993. The study also revealed that college students have a much higher rate of drug abuse or dependence than the general public – 22.9 percent and 8.5 percent, respectively.
Is it more free time? Disposable income? Innocent experimentation? The reasons seem to vary from student to student.
“Jack,” a 22-year-old senior in political science who used to smoke marijuana but stopped because it caused him to gain weight, admits to being a huge fan of LSD. He has tripped with his friends on campus, even being questioned by the LSUPD while on the drug, though the police were friendly and nothing came of the incident.
“It’s an awesome experience,” said Jack.” I’m not ruining my life. I have a 3.9 [GPA], and I plan on going into academia.”
Some student drug experiences haven’t been so rosy, however.
“Sam” was a freshman at LSU last year. He “smoked weed everyday,” and as a result, his grades suffered, causing strife between him and his parents. Near the end of the spring 2008 semester, he and his friends were caught smoking in his car in the garden district in Baton Rouge. His father was a well connected lawyer, so other than paying some fines, nothing went on “Sam’s” record. However, his parents forced him into a 12-step program over the summer, and he wasn’t allowed to return to LSU in the fall.
Sam is now a sophomore at University of Louisiana at Lafayette and lives at home. Now drug free, Sam said, “I’m a much better person now. I have a better relationship with my parents, my little brothers, and with God.”
“Ian,” a 25-year-old sophomore, recounted the day he and a friend were caught smoking on campus.
“We smoked in the Greek Amphitheatre all the time,” said Ian. “I wasn’t worried, but looking back, that was so, so stupid. I can’t believe we did that.”
Ian said that in the report the officer stated that he saw them passing an object back and forth and suspected the two were smoking marijuana. He was right. Ian had to pay a hefty fine and submit to drug education classes and periodic drug testing. He was able to go through a diversion program, however, and nothing is on his record. After the entire ordeal was over, which took a year and a half, he celebrated with his friends by smoking a lot of marijuana.
“I hadn’t smoked in forever. I got blasted,” said Ian. Did he learn anything from the experience?
“Yeah,” he said, “watch out for the cops.”
In Louisiana, a first offense of marijuana possession is a misdemeanor and can carry a fine of up to $500 and up to six months in jail. To many marijuana-smoking students, however, it seems like more of a judicial annoyance than anything very serious. Nothing remained on their records, and they had to face their parent’s wrath more than the State’s.
In fact, for most students, run-ins with the law don’t happen.
“Cara,” a 21-year-old music major, routinely smokes on the parade grounds. Is she worried about getting caught? “Not really,” said Cara. “It’s not like I do it when tons of people are out there throwing a football around.”
Experiences with drugs appear to be very personal. Some students are more discretionary; others are apathetic. Some look preppy, some look bohemian, some make excellent grades, and some do the bare minimum, using most of their free time getting intoxicated.
It’s no secret, though, that there are different drug demographics on campus.
The Northgate area tends to be inhabited by LSU’s free spirits. Marijuana and hallucinogens tend to be favored. On the other hand, the south side of the campus, which includes Tigerland, is home to more the traditional types of students with typical college parties – complete with kegs, funnels, beer pong and red Dixie cups. Yet, both sides of campus have more free time and fewer responsibilities than those who are not attending college.
Though someone living on State Street might choose to smoke marijuana with their friends after class on a Wednesday, students living in Tigerland might choose to finish off a 12-pack before heading to Fred’s. Getting intoxicated to pass the time is a very real part of the college experience.
Although our generation went through the D.A.R.E. program, drug use is on the rise. Even with the threat of legal penalties, students don’t seem to fear getting caught. Is this human nature or epidemic? The so-called “War on Drugs” has been raging since the 1980s, but it is clear that drugs have made a permanent home on college campuses across the country.
Indie-rock group MGMT graduated from prestigious Wesleyan University in 2005; they now create music (very popular with college students and frequently played on KLSU) that promotes and enhances the LSD experience. Former President George W. Bush was rumored to have done cocaine, while current President Barack Obama openly admitted to doing cocaine and marijuana. Many students are more than aware that it is very possible (though by no means guaranteed) to experiment with drugs and go on to lead successful lives. This is likely the primary reason why it continues to occur, particularly with those lucky enough to attend university.
We went from Clinton’s “But I didn’t inhale” to Obama’s “Of course, I inhaled. That was the point.” Perhaps this signals a growing acceptance of experimental drug use. Regardless of whether it is socially acceptable or not, drugs are here to stay.
By Abby Lunetta
Originally Published: Issue 751 - January 21, 2009