Drug Problem (Self) As you will see when you read Nate Lippens' excellent drug user's guide in this very issue, the difference between what you've been told drugs will do and what they actually do can be massive. For this reason, college is the most common time and place for people in their late teens and early 20s to begin experimenting in earnest. This can be an important process of self-discovery and hedonism. Drugs, as very few are willing to admit, are obviously really fun. They can also be a one-way ticket to bankruptcy, social leprosy, and very real heath risks. When you're the one with the problem (drugs, alcohol, or both) you're almost guaranteed to be the last one to know--or rather, to understand. You always know when you're doing too many drugs; you tend to be broke and feel miserable, which leads to doing more of whatever substance is making you feel miserable to begin with. You may also notice that your friends are avoiding you, or pretending not to notice that you aren't taking care of yourself. But you know, and so do they. You might not consciously appreciate that your problem is dangerous, because people who have drug problems are uniquely adept at convincing themselves that the problem lies outside of their control. Sometimes they're right. That's when they're ready for help.
EARLY WARNINGS: Using every day for prolonged periods of time; using instead of going to class or work; not being able to face class or work without using before or after; developing friendships based solely on mutual drug use.
REMEDY: Simply try stopping for a week, or better yet, a month. If you can't do that without alienating your friends, they're not good friends. If you can't do it at all, it might be time to seek some serious help. Nearly every college offers confidential counseling services to students. There are also countless off-campus organizations, most notably Alcoholics Anonymous and its many satellites, whose sole purpose is to help people who are looking for it.
Drug Problem (Friend) There are basically two options when you discover that a good friend or roommate has a serious problem with drugs or alcohol: Turn your back on them, or be prepared to dedicate a substantial part of your life, finances, and sanity to "helping" them deal with it. The fact of the matter is that the only people who can receive help with addiction are addicts who actively want help. If they don't want help, they can't be helped. It's that simple.
Sometimes, it's just a question of behavior--a kid learning how to go on benders can seem like a total skid-row loser whose life is on the line, and then, BAM: he takes a shower, becomes a young Republican, and never does crank again. More often than not, however, addicts are addicts, and even though it sounds cold, it is the path of wisdom to steer clear of them until they get their shit together. It's not like trying to save a bad swimmer from drowning; it's like trying to save an anchor from drowning. They drag you down with them.
EARLY WARNINGS: Constantly high or drunk (duh); constantly talking about getting high or drunk before, during, and after getting high and drunk; borrowing money; disappearing for days at a time; mood swings.
REMEDIES: Refuse to drink or get high with them (this doesn't make you a hypocrite); refuse to loan them money or let them crash on your floor; offer to take them to counseling; cut line and tell them that you'll be happy to be friends when they've dealt with their obvious problem. They'll thank you later.
Bad Grades One of the problems and benefits of college life is that the work you do is largely unsupervised. Therefore, many students who are really excited to be free from the yoke of authority start to bail on homework and class attendance, thinking, Well, it's a long semester. I'll make it up later. Unfortunately, you usually don't make it up later because you're too busy trying to catch up with all your classmates who didn't flake on their work early in the term. Next thing you know, you're on the phone to your (fascist) parents trying to explain why a 1.2 GPA is actually a sign that you're smarter than all the sheep who do exactly what they're told by the goose-stepping bourgeois faculty, and that flunking Intro to Poetry probably means that you understand more about poetry than they'll ever know. It's a slippery slope to self-righteousness, and an even more slippery one to a year back at home taking classes at the local CC and working at the Gap.
EARLY WARNING: Professor and classmates chuckle when you actually show up to class.
REMEDY: Go to class. Do your homework. If you fall behind, talk to your teacher (and be honest; they have heard every lie you could possibly imagine) and try to arrange a workable schedule by which you can catch up. Unlike high-school teachers, university faculty actually tend to like what they do and are more interested in teaching than in discipline--though there are exceptions. Be prepared to take some lumps. You earned them.
Committing to a New Identity It's no sin for a white boy to grow dreadlocks, for a Mormon to march with the campus socialists, or for a Girl Scout to perform rampant acts of cunnilingus--in fact, all those things are an important part of growing up. The problem is when these new identities become so important that you renounce the you you were a month before you adopted them. Actually, even that isn't such a big deal. The real crisis comes when you decide that dreads are kind of gross, socialism is an untenable lie, and that even though lesbians are fun to shoot pool and make documentaries with, you kind of miss the bouquet of fellatio. Try everything you want in college, just beware that today's experiments can easily become tomorrow's deep, dark regrets.
EARLY WARNING: "Mom, dad, this is my girlfriend Beatrice. We'd be getting married--if only it were legal!"
REMEDY: Why not try a nice weekend getaway?
Roommate Alienation One thing that almost no entering college student is prepared for is cohabitation with a stranger. Though most people are generally reasonable, the territorial dispute over the tiny plot of psychic and physical real estate that is the average dorm room can become horrible, and in some cases violent. Though it's possible to argue that sharing a living space is good training for getting by in the real world, it's actually just a very specific challenge; sometimes people are unreasonable. Sometimes people snore. Sometimes people stink. Sometimes people listen to young country and hang posters of girls in bikinis above their bed. It's a crapshoot, which might be the closest approximation to a real world microcosm the dorm-life experience has to offer: Other people can be assholes, and the fact of their assholery can be totally intractable. The job of learning to live with it is all yours.
EARLY WARNINGS: Silent treatment; slamming doors; long, meaningful sighs when you enter or leave the room; feelings of deep, murderous rage brought on by something as small as a chewed pen cap.
REMEDY: Be direct and reasonable in your confrontations. Try not to react too passionately, either when accusing or when being accused. Be sensitive to the fact that you both share a small space and that no matter how obvious you think the solution is, you might really be part of the problem, too. Also, clean up after yourself. Also, find a friend who doesn't mind you crashing at their place for a night or two.
Weight Gain/Loss The "freshman 15" swings both ways, which is to say that when you're forced to fend for yourself instead of being able to reach at will into your parents' fridge, food can become a problem. Though many new students are supplied with a dining program as part of their rooming costs, many more succumb to the pressure of constant junk/fast-food availability (another peril of freedom)--not to mention rampant alcohol consumption--and pack on the pounds in their first semesters at school. Still others, absent the perk of having someone else to prepare their meals, stop eating altogether, and lose dangerous amounts of weight. Though those of us who have lived in the former category our whole lives may envy those in the latter, eating disorders swing both ways; both weight gain and weight loss are easy ways to put yourself at risk.
EARLY WARNINGS: (Gain) Clothes don't fit; no one wants to have sex with you; Chee-tos dust on fingers. (Loss) Clothes don't fit; people want to have sex with you until they see you naked; bad breath.
REMEDIES: (Gain) Ease off on snacking. Eat smaller portions more often. Consider fruit on occasion. Try not to let every meal come between two slices of bread or in a large cardboard box. Exercise. (Loss) Fix a time to eat something from every food group, no matter how small, every day. If you think you might actually have a disorder, like anorexia or bulimia, see a doctor immediately.
Choosing the Wrong Major You were the star of all the shows in your high-school drama department and everyone agreed that your performance as Snoopy in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown was a triumph. Now you're halfway through your first term and beginning to realize that if you have to read one more word about Greek mask drama you're going to put out your own eyes out with a hot poker. That's right, fool: You're a drama major. Welcome to the hell you thought you'd love. But don't despair. It's never too late to change majors (just ask my friend who recently began his 14th year as a UW undergrad. La la la.). No one will blame you for switching gears. Better that, after all, than being stuck following a course of study you can't stand out of pride. You're young. Make some mistakes.
EARLY WARNING: You hate every class you're in and dread the thought of every class you're supposed to take next semester.
REMEDY: Withdraw. Take some electives. Despite what your parents and counselors might think, majors are not that big a deal, unless you plan to be a lawyer, in which case, shouldn't you be studying?
Credit-Card Debt If you haven't seen them already, you will see them soon: Folding tables on the quad or in the U-District offering free, unlimited credit to new college students. Get yourself a Visa, Master Card, or even an American Express, and prepare to enter a world of indescribably agony. They target you because you are young and prone to getting your parents to bail you out. And you will need bailing out, because you don't have enough money to pay for all the stuff you will buy. Everything seems free when you can buy it without having the money to pay for it. I don't care how smart you think you are, or how cautious with money: Credit cards are the devil, and your affiliation with that neat little plastic trinket will end in tears. I swear.
EARLY WARNING: "I'll just put the bar tab on my Visa, and you guys can give me cash!"
REMEDY: Keep walking. Do not sign up for a credit card. No. No. For the love of all things holy: NOOOO!
Sleeping with a Professor It's not hard to see the attraction on both sides of this exchange, though it's telling that, statistically, it's male profs and female students who hook up and not the other way around (though it does happen, fellas: look at the Letourneau family!). In some cases, sex with a drastically older person is a healthy part of the sexual experimentation that college invites. In most cases, though, part of that experiment involves the often crushing realization that fucking the idea of a person--rather than the person--can be deleterious to one's self-respect (particularly if you're the idea getting fucked, if you know what I mean). Still, it's unsafe to generalize here, because every girl has different sexual proclivities, and life is precious, and blah blah blah. The main thing to remember is when you sleep with your professor, even if you're not technically breaking a rule or a law, you are most definitely entering into one of the most painful clichés in the halls of academia--perhaps your relationship will transcend this, but then again, that's what everyone thinks.
EARLY WARNING: Receiving extra compliments or criticisms on your work; a flirtatious atmosphere during office hours; references to a spouse's vacation.
REMEDY: Make constant references to spouse, fall in love, suggest (not threaten) that you're considering telling everyone what's been happening.