Our world, in many of realms, remains dominated by the philosophy of more: richer, faster, bigger, stronger; smarter, more innovative, more involved (hence busier), you name it, all seem more lucrative than their less extreme alternatives. In turn, ‘more’ has been and is so often equated with ‘better’ and ‘greater’. This ideology vigorously pervades the college and high school spheres. And frankly, this notion almost certainly presents in childhood. From a young age parents shuffle their children around like chess pieces from soccer games to dance practices, to music lessons, and more. Meanwhile, these same children are baptized in this philosophy of more: and thus expected to maintain stellar grades, good health, a solid friend group, and all of their parents’ and modern society’s other pressing demands. Amid this high stakes balancing act, many (young) people teeter out of control. Overwhelmed by intrinsic and extrinsic expectations, many compromise on their most essential needs. Overall health (emotional, mental, physical, even spiritual) appears to be the most cogent reflection of this. Yearning to raise a grade or to place one more checkmark on our résumés, we’ve (yes, myself included) often skipped workouts, sacrificed sleep, eaten poorly (because of stress, or so we reason), and not allowed ourselves well-deserved moments to breathe. Many of these same people seek temporary escapes from the insistent pain, disappointment, or un-satisfaction of everyday life through addiction (though many probably won’t call it that). Doubtless, over commitment, poor personal care, and addiction go hand in hand; and sadly, all three are at pandemic levels in the United States (and perhaps world) today.
Milling around the campus coffee shop, a large mass of dazed college students waits attentively to get their (caffeine) fix. “We’re closing in 15 minutes,” announces a barista. Hearing this, another three to four students join the procession. I, just another member of the crowd, wait with the same hope. Standing aloof, I drift off; my mind reaches a near void as I blankly stare into the space ahead. Still in this sleep-deprivation-induced trance, I approach the cash register. “What would you like?” she says. “Huh?” I respond. “Your order?” she replies compassionately. Tired and confused, yet trying to save face, I quickly scan the tea selection, and ultimately choose the uber-caffeinated ‘English Breakfast’. A few behind me follow suit and select the most caffeinated respective drinks. A couple of minutes later, another barista calls my name, signaling that my drink is ready. Simultaneously, as I grab it, the clock strikes ten, and the coffee shop exodus ensues. Smiling and saying ‘goodnight’, I grab my tea and prepare for yet another late, homework night.
For me, like many others, this is just another night on the quiet floor of the library: four to six days a week, every week. And though I do not often rely on caffeine to push through another dense reading, long essay, or study session, at times, it surely is a crutch for my ability, my success. Perhaps regular caffeine consumption remains a rather benign, banal ritual, which aids college students in the pursuit of what might have otherwise been impossible. Perhaps it’s not. Either way, ‘There are bigger fish to fry.’ Commonly students take more extreme measures to meet a deadline—and even to feel good. Consider the allegorical, perhaps apocryphal, story of two college friends, Jordan and Sarah. Both rely on Adderall (a drug commonly used to treat ADHD, which allows for better focus and often prevents one from sleeping) to meet the intense academic and extracurricular demands of college life.
“Sarah, I haven’t seen you in weeks,” her friend Jordan exclaims with excitement. “I know. I’m sorry. I’ve been so busy with midterms, work, student government, my sorority; and my four other groups,” she replies unenthusiastically. Sarah reaches into her backpack. Grabbing a nondescript, orange pill bottle, she releases the lid and places two blue capsules in her palm. “Addy?” Jordan inquires. “Yeah,” Sarah responds. With a quick sleight of the hand and a swig of water the pills disappear. “20 milligrams?” Jordan probes. Sarah nods with acknowledgement. “Nice! I was able to get an extra 10 (mg) from Joey. Now I’m up to 30! And I’ve been so busy, too. With cheerleading, choir, my sorority, a job; and research with Dr. Brown on the side, I just need something (anything) to give me an edge—to help me through it all,” Jordan replies with a quiver in her voice. “I totally get you. But you can do it. Break is only six weeks away. You can rest then”, Sarah replies wryly. “Maybe we can even hang over break”, she responds with encouragement in her tone. The two friends hug, say their ‘goodbye’, and then promptly head off to their respective activities. Like Jordan and Sarah, I, too, have lived an over committed life—one intertwined with periodic drinking as a release from stress and pain (although I would have denied this at the time).
“Ben, are you ready to go?” a friend calls. “Almost “, I respond. “I just need to put the finishing touches on this paper before we ‘go out’. I’ll be there in a bit.” After making the final edits to my essay, I submit it, and proceed to dig through my closet for some reasonable party garb. I decide on a bright, Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts, and my trusty tennis shoes. Turning off the lights and locking the door, I begin to mentally prepare for the night ahead. It’s only 10:30 on Saturday night; I’ll have a few drinks, hang out, have a good time, and be home by 12:30 or 1 o’clock.
It sounded like a sure plan to me. I’ve had a long week; I’ve earned this, I reason. Entering the house party, I am almost immediately greeted with “Bruster’s here”. My friends greet me with hugs, handshakes, and innocent jokes alike. Reaching into my drawstring knapsack, I grab a beer and proceed to catch up with friends. Meanwhile, someone across the room begins to play the newest, coolest song on the speaker system. The beat drops, and then wooden floor panels rattle like toothpicks. Everyone begins to dance. It’s euphoric at first. “Ahh, this is what I’ve been missing—time to relax and let loose,” I exclaim to a friend. We continue to dance and drink. Over a short time ‘a few’ turns into a few too many. By midnight, my equilibrium has long departed. By then I’ve found myself on an old sofa, earnestly trying to keep up a conversation with a group of questionably clad individuals who’ve also had a few too many: I fail miserably. After a while of this, and with help from a friend, I safely make it back to my place. Once in my loft, I drift off.
Awakening from a poor night’s sleep, I am quickly filled with feelings of regret. Why did I subdue my own inhibitions yet again? Damn, I embarrassed myself in front of that pretty girl, too, I bemoan. Drinking, for me—at least the way many young Americans do it (binge drinking)—has rarely provided much enjoyment. To be sure, at no point would I ever consider myself to have experienced a ‘drinking problem’—either based on youthful or clinical definitions of the phrase. In fact, I seldom drink; except, when I do, I often have trouble knowing my limits and saying no. Like many others, at times I have gotten caught up in “I’ve earned this, I deserve this” thinking: a mentality that many young people harbor towards drinking, taking drugs, or seeking other sorts of releases.
Personally, I do not believe that anyone deserves to disrespect their body (and those around them) in some of the ways that young people do today. ‘Getting trashed, inebriated, fucked up,’ are beyond unhealthy—they’re dangerous. As I estimate it, some drink up to two or even three times the amount of alcohol necessary to get drunk over a given amount of time. Sadly, for some, another drink, another shot, or another chug just don’t seem to be enough. Once again, the philosophy of more influences ones’ decision making. Unfortunately, the propagation of this mentality greatly increases the acceptability of these actions for future generations, to the point of normalization. In fact, I could safely argue that hedonistic escapism (of all sorts) has become normative for young Americans. Media surely seems to reflect this. Popular songs like Rihanna’s “Cheers (Drink to That),” Wiz Khalifa’s “No Sleep,” Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok”, and endless others echo this trend. Take “Cheers (Drink to That)”, for example.
Cheers to the freakin’ weekend
I drink to that, yeah yeah
Oh let the Jameson sink in
I drink to that, yeah yeah
Don’t let the bastards get ya down
Turn it around with another round
There’s a party at the bar everybody put your glasses up I drink to that
I drink to that. (azlyrics.com)
As Rihanna sings, she crescendos into an emphatic chant. Her song or many others like it typify the type media that normalizes drinking, drug use, various forms of escapism, and simply put—addiction. On the other end of the pop music spectrum, songs like Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools,” Alessia Cara’s “Here,” and Mike Posner’s “I Took a Pill in Ibiza,” portray the antithesis. Take “Swimming Pools”, for example. In it, Lamar clearly presents his aversion to youthful party culture.
[Someone at a party speaking to Kendrick]
Ni**a why you babysittin’ only 2 or 3 shots?
I’m a show you how to turn it up a notch
First you get a swimming pool of liquor, then you dive in it
Pool full of liquor, then you dive in it
[Kendrick thinking to himself]
Okay, now open your mind and listen to me, Kendrick
I’m in your conscience, if you do not hear me
Then you will be history, Kendrick
And I’m hoping to lead you to victory, Kendrick
If I take another one down
I’m a drown in some poison abusin’ my limit. (azlyrics.com)
Cara and Posner then reveal their ambivalence towards party culture in their respective songs. Despite these three artists’ musical prominence, their messages have gone relatively unheeded in popular culture. Escapist media ‘feels good’; it sells, and therefore, it predominates.
As it stands, our generation is perhaps the most addicted, overcommitted, apathetic generation ever. During the week we busy ourselves with this, that, and the other thing; and then during the weekend (even commonly during the week) many seek escape through (over-the-counter and prescription) pills, porn, alcohol, illegal drugs; shopping, eating, Netflix binging, and more. Drugs and habitual behaviors become the means of putting a cherry on top of life’s otherwise unsatisfactory sundae. To be sure, many forms of escapism are normal, healthy, and acceptable. Children’s play, perhaps the earliest form of escapism, enables young minds to formulate important ideas about the world. Organized sports, another form of escapism (I would argue), also promote camaraderie, vitality, fun, and commitment. Therefore, escapism can spur good health, personal reflection, and great discovery. Nevertheless, escapism too often manifests as addiction and distraction from reality and necessity. As for a solution: I suggest ‘balance’ and ‘moderation’—not some modern, behavioral Puritanism. Individuals and groups alike will have to draw their own lines in the sand as to what should be considered permissible, healthy, and becoming. Ultimately though, Millenials and those that follow should recognize that over commitment and poor personal care breed addiction, and that addiction prevails regardless of a generation’s widespread denial or normalization of it. With the normalization of over commitment and addiction, Millenials meet adversity in their search of living healthy, balanced lives. I believe that we can be better. Don’t you?
PC: Verge Campus