*Editor’s note: Names have been changed in order to protect students in this article who wish to remain anonymous.
Jeremy* (’16) was not having a good week. The combination of an increased workload and grueling rugby tryouts had left him both high-strung and exhausted. Physically and emotionally drained, he was looking forward to the weekend more than ever.
He arrived at a party on a Friday, like many other students, looking to relieve the burden of stress he had been carrying throughout the week. He started off with one drink. Then one become two, and two became three – he continued to drink throughout the night, eventually losing track of how much alcohol he had consumed. “I just kept going,” Jeremy said. “I didn’t really think of stopping, and nobody told me to stop.”
Unfortunately, Jeremy’s actions resulted in a trip to the emergency room. He remembers people calling his name and then waking up in the hospital. Although his memory of the night is vague, Jeremy clearly remembers how worried his mother was. “She got really scared because she had no idea what was happening to me,” he said. “Before the party, everything was normal. We were eating dinner together and then a few hours later I was in the hospital. It must have been really tough on her.”
Jeremy’s negative experience with alcohol, although extreme, is not irregular amongst the student body. A majority of students in the High School have experienced the downsides of alcohol or know someone who has. A poll of 100 High School students found that 91 percent of students know someone who has vomited because of alcohol consumption and 18 percent of students polled have vomited themselves.
Violet* (’14), can relate to Jeremy’s negative experience with alcohol as it has caused her to make choices she now regrets. In this past year, Violet had sex with a fellow classmate at a party, a decision she does not think she would have made had she been sober. “I didn’t really know him that well to go that far with him and afterwards it was just weird,” she said. “I usually don’t go that far so quickly. I had only hooked up with him once before so we weren’t experienced together.”
After the party, Violet realized she had made a mistake and regretted having sex with a partner she had not known intimately. “I just kind of wished that I had thought through [my actions] more and I think the reason I didn’t [think them through] was because I was drinking,” she said.
Ski trip, a senior class tradition, is known for the large amount of alcohol consumed during its duration. The week-long escape to Austria provides second semester seniors with an adult-free environment and a chance to relax after completing the college application process. Although regarded as a bonding experience for the class, it is a week during which many students make mistakes similar to the ones made by Violet and Jeremy.
Betty* (’14) went into the week with an attitude similar to that of many of her classmates. “It was an opportunity to have complete freedom for an entire week,” she said. “In my chalet we started drinking at 8 in the morning and we would keep drinking until 8 at night.”
Whilst on the trip, Betty found herself getting swept up and made decisions she would not have otherwise made. One night in particular stands out in her mind. She, while under the influence, decided to have intercourse with a male student at her chalet. “It wouldn’t have happened if we had been in London,” she said. “Everything was just too easy on ski trip. We had too much freedom. There weren’t any consequences for our actions.”
Sexual behavior taking place at parties or while drunk is commonplace in High School. In fact, 90 percent of students polled believe that sexual activity is more likely to occur when alcohol is involved.
Counselor Stephanie Oliver believes that people tend to make bad sexual decisions when they drink, regardless of what age they are. “When people’s inhibitions are down, it makes them more confident,” she said. “I don’t know if most sexual acts in high school occur with alcohol, but I would not be surprised if it were true. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case for everybody in the world, not just high schoolers.”
Oliver, rather than telling students what to do, tries to provide them with information on how alcohol harms the human body. “I help students process how much of their decision was influenced by drinking and about the way alcohol and drugs metabolize in the body,” she said.
She does, however, believe that students should be careful with how they conduct themselves when alcohol is involved. Oliver is well aware of the things that have the potential to go wrong at a party and thinks that some mistakes made while under the influence cannot be erased. “I think rape happens, sexual harassment happens, and people get sick. Sometimes the consequences follow people around,” she said. “Sometimes these things stay with you forever.”
Jeremy agrees with Oliver’s sentiments and said that his hospitalization has radically changed the way he views alcohol. He especially regrets the way that the decisions he made impacted his mother. “It must have been so hard for her not knowing what was going to happen to me,” he said. “I drink very little now. I’m just not really into it anymore.”
Taking into consideration the prevalence of students consumption of alcohol in the high school, the mandatory health class that is taken for most during sophomore year focuses heavily on the negative effects of drinking from an early age. For the past five years, Prevention Specialist Brenda Conlan has spoken to High School students about the effects of alcohol and other drugs by sharing her own personal battles with addiction at an early age.
As a result of her father’s alcoholism, alcohol has been ever-present in Conlan’s life. She, as well as four of her siblings, ended up abusing both drugs and alcohol while still in high school. “[Alcohol] shipwrecked my adolescence, I didn’t finish high school,” she said. “It made going to college very difficult and unlikely, but I did it. I started college when I was 21. I had to take a year of classes for no credit, and then I matriculated when I was 22.”
Conlan first experimented with alcohol when she was 12 years old. She was at a friend’s house when her friend’s older sister brought the two young girls a case of beer. “It was about 15 times what we needed,” she said. “I just remember feeling giddy and my skin feeling warm and relaxed. We were laughing and just having a wild, funny night.”
Daisy* (’16) also began experimenting with alcohol when she was 12. Since Daisy started abusing alcohol at a young age, she initially kept it a secret from her peers. However, when she first started drinking she did not drink because she liked the taste of alcohol. “I wouldn’t just consume it because I liked the taste of wine or vodka, I would consume it for the specific reason that I wanted to feel different,” she said.
For Daisy, feeling different was an easy high for her to attain due to being on prescription medication. “Prescription drugs, especially the type that I’m on, if you take alcohol with them, you are much more out of control than you would be if you weren’t on the medication,” she said. “Being on medication and drinking is a completely different thing than what would happen from just drinking.”
While Daisy only stopped binge-drinking alcohol a few months ago, she believes that all of her experiences with alcohol produced negative results. One instance in which Daisy regretted her actions when under the influence was when a video circulated of her kissing another girl, who was also inebriated. “The first thing that I heard the next morning was from one of my closest friends, and he said, ‘Your reputation is ruined’,” she said. “When I found it was caught on camera, it made me feel horrible because I knew I would be judged, but most of all I was afraid that people who I cared about would think differently of me.”
Looking back, Conlan wishes she had chosen to abstain and partly accredits her troubled relationship with alcohol to how early she started drinking. Part of her message to the students she speaks with in the High School is to drink carefully and to delay drinking regularly for as long as possible. “A person in high school hasn’t completed all of the emotional tasks of adolescence and if a person starts drinking when they’re young, they may not learn how to socialize, problem solve, or be comfortable without alcohol in the future,” she said. “My message on alcohol is one of postponement.”
Daisy agrees with Conlan on the negative effects of drinking in high school. “In no way is alcohol meant to be abused. If I had known how I would treat alcohol these past few years I would have never started drinking… Being a teenager isn’t always about pushing limits. One should feel safe and know what scares them. That’s why we have fear, to keep us in check,” she said.
Students experiencing difficulties regarding either alcohol or sexual abuse are encouraged to reach out to a member of the ASL staff, such as Counselor Stephanie Oliver or a faculty member whom they trust.