Let’s talk about our relationships with alcohol

Alison Murtagh

We all know Washington and Lee is a “work hard, play hard” school. While it’s important to take time to relax and unwind, sometimes we forget how to do so safely. Slowly, we find ourselves spiraling out of control.

Data shows that about four out of five students in college drink some amount of alcohol. Furthermore, the Alcohol Rehab Guide states that of these students, it is estimated that 50% binge drink (four or more drinks within two hours for women, or five or more drinks within two hours for men). While one night of binge drinking may seem like a “college activity,” in reality it can lead to devastating consequences, such as loss of motivation in school work, participation in illegal activities and development of dangers behaviors. But sometimes, students struggle to see that there is a way out, and the college experience does not require one to drink in order to have fun.

The Washingtonian Society offers help for students struggling. The club is a support group for students in recovery from substance, alcohol or other drug use. The group meets on Wednesdays for an abstinence recovery program, in which students discuss their experiences with staying sober on campus. Fridays are open to anyone who wants to cut down on substance use or just wants to talk about his or her experience.

According to Alex Cantrell, ’19, the group’s presence on campus was not always as public as it currently is. Cantrell said previously students were only aware of the meetings if they talked to Dr. Kirk Luder, a psychiatrist in the University’s Counseling Center.

“It was a very secretive group. No one really knew about it,” Cantrell said. “It’s still completely confidential, but the location wasn’t known, and it was sort of like an underground thing.”

Cantrell, who struggled himself, said when he first attended a meeting his sophomore year there were only five or six students present.

“Sometimes now, we bust out of the main room and we have to sit around the ping-pong table. I think one meeting we had like 25, maybe 30 people,” Cantrell said.

The group is a formally recognized club by the university, and receives funding from the Executive Committee.

“We have a set house. It’s sober. Nothing is allowed there,” Cantrell said. “The doors are always open for whenever you want to come by and talk, or if you just need somewhere to be that’s sober.”

Cantrell struggled his sophomore year, and doesn’t want to see any other students face a similar experience.

“My sophomore year, even though I went [to meetings], I basically just suffered in silence,” Cantrell said. “It was a really bad year. It sort of took away a quarter of my college experience, and I’d hate to see that happen to anybody else.”

Cantrell said he wants to continue to get the word out about the club, and make sure people know it is a resource.

“It doesn’t mean they have to use it, but at least they know it’s there. They don’t have to suffer in silence if they don’t want to,” Cantrell said.

With the class of 2023 soon to join campus, it is important that the Washingtonian Society continues to flourish and receive the recognition it deserves. According to the Alcohol Rehab Guide, “The high-risk period of binge drinking for college students is during the first six weeks of their freshman year.” So as students move into the dorms in late August and early September, it is important to remember that the Washingtonian Society is on campus, and ready to lend a helping hand.

We need more students like Cantrell on campus, who are willing to share their stories to help the common good of the student body. While resources provided by Student Affairs and the Resident Advisor Staff can be important, there is nothing like receiving support from a peer.

I encourage anyone struggling with substance use to reach out to the Washingtonian Society. If you’re nervous, ask a friend to go with you. Who knows, it may just save your college experience.