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A freshman’s guide to understanding drugs and alcohol

Jan. 11, 2019
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Illustrated by Hannah Kang

At my first college party, I saw someone snorting a line of cocaine. I went back to my room and called my mom.

Prior to arriving at college, I was terrified, as you might be able to tell from reading this series. This is particularly important because I am attending school in Amsterdam, a city notorious for coffee shops legally offering marijuana to customers over the age of 18. I was scared—would I transform into a stoner by the time I received my degree? Or would I struggle to find like-minded people who weren’t head over heels for weed?

That night, I was up on the terrace of my dorm building with a few people from my floor, sipping on cheap beer from the corner supermarket. (The legal drinking age in the Netherlands, along with the majority of Europe, is 18.) While we were exchanging stories about our summer travels and anecdotes about our application experiences, a large group of British graduate students arrived. They opted for the far end of the terrace, settling down at a picnic table. A girl that I had met earlier that week—let’s call her Daniella—came over to say hi to me, and we quickly ended up laughing at how badly our orientation week had gone. Suddenly, one of her friends came back, holding a thin card with a small mountain of white powder on it.

“Hey, you want it now?” 

“Sure.” She carefully picked up the card and proceeded to snort cocaine.

Not missing a beat, she carried on with her story about her summer trip to Mykonos. Daniella and I don’t really talk anymore other than occasionally commenting on each other’s Instagram photos.

I’m not here to advocate for illegal substances, and I’m not going to get on a high horse and tell people they shouldn’t be doing drugs; I just want people who are entering college to understand how drugs and alcohol can impact you as a student and overall young person.

I drink occasionally at school, over dinner or during a night out with my friends. Whenever I find my drink count going up, I always sip on water and eat some snacks because I don’t want to end up drunk and unable to walk myself home. Most of my friends do the same; we’re aware of our limits, and we feel comfortable saying no to another drink. But it’s easy to lose yourself when you’re given so much freedom and are suddenly exposed to new options—especially if you grew up with strict parents. 

From personal experience, I can confirm that it is horrifying to see people stumbling into class and unable to hold a conversation due to excessive drug use; I can corroborate that it’s sad to see people puking in a bar bathroom. I’ve even seen students roll joints and sip from a flask during lectures. But what’s most concerning is when people don’t see the danger of their ways. 

I don’t think most college students are completely understanding toward people who opt out of drinking and taking drugs. In fact, I often hear people throw around derogatory terms, making fun of those who take serious care of their well-being. Whenever I’ve rejected invitations to take drugs at parties, most people don’t let it go—they spend time trying to change my mind, insisting that pills and powder are the only ways to have fun. 

Even Daniella, from the brief conversations I’ve had with her since that night, has fallen into the spiral of hard drugs and alcohol, often missing classes and tests. She’s become a living example of our parents’ cautionary tales. Seeing Daniella snort cocaine put things into perspective for me. Some people have integrated drugs and alcohol into their day-to-day life, and seeing them set me straight; I now know with full confidence that I don’t want to become the wild card at a party.

If you decide to consume drugs or alcohol, use your best judgment and try to not lose yourself in the process. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says to you about it—at the end of the day, you know your limits better than anyone else.

Still a freshman,

Wen Hsiao