TO THE EDITOR:
I am writing to express my immense gratitude and admiration for Jack Yungblut's letter last week in which he courageously revealed that he had turned to binge drinking as both a camouflage and form of self-medication for his depression. I very much hope that this brave piece sparks a larger conversation in our community about mental health and the many roots of binge drinking. Jack is not alone - research has shown that a sizable portion of young people who abuse alcohol and drugs are self-medicating in some way.
I work with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, many of whom are struggling with intense trauma and mental health issues (such as PTSD) in the aftermath of their assaults. People's responses to trauma vary: some may withdraw, while others may 'act out' and engage in various forms of risky behavior. I have seen desperate survivors turn to alcohol, drugs or even unsafe sex as a way to self-medicate and cope. My anecdotal observations are backed up by research: The World Health Organization estimates that victims of sexual assault are 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs and four times more likely to contemplate suicide than people who have not been assaulted.
People often drink to excess because they are hurting, yet, this is not the lens through which our society generally views binge drinking or other forms of excessive behavior. Too many people - including friends and family, medical professionals and police officers - roll their eyes, cast judgment, and dismiss the self-destructive impulses of these young people as thoughtless hedonism. I remember cringing last year when I read in the Student a story about the arrest of an undergraduate who had passed out on the floor of a bathroom for the second time that week. The piece was written comically and it was clear we were meant to laugh. But I have to ask, do we have any idea what that student was going through? What if she drank herself to a black out state because she was dealing with severe depression? What if alcohol was the only way she could numb the pain and memory of being sexually assaulted? What if one of her family members had just died? Would we have laughed then?
Brett Milam recently wrote a piece urging students to consider how their excessive drinking can divert the precious resources of the Oxford police and hospital from people and circumstances in greater need. While I don't disagree that those capable of moderation should exercise it, I think Jack's letter eloquently conveyed that there are many students trapped in the depths of despair who deserve our concern and help. We need to educate incoming students about how to access resources on mental health support. Campus organizations that encourage excessive drinking have to develop some awareness of how their activities impact susceptible peers. Above all, we as a community need to remember the importance of compassion - because you never really know what someone is going through.
Thank you again Jack, for your courage, and for sparking a conversation that needs to be had.