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Exclusive to the News Tribune: Colleges are returning, and so will problems related to partying

With everyone adjusting or readjusting to campus life post-pandemic, "we could see a perfect storm" of irresponsible alcohol and drug use.

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Bill Schorr / Cagle Cartoons

The COVID-19 pandemic is winding down, or at least it feels that way. Social distancing is a thing of the past for many, as Minnesota and other states across the nation have dropped restrictions like wearing masks in public places. People are traveling again, celebrating holidays, and going back to work and school. Colleges and universities are reopening, and this fall will be the first term of higher education attended since before the pandemic.

Things are going back to normal.

But for the students who will be attending college this fall, it likely won't feel normal. No one has attended school in person since before the pandemic. So, universities across the country will be experiencing a mishmash of students doing their best to become oriented — or reoriented — to the college campus. It will be similar to having a system full of freshmen. Everyone will be returning from a long hiatus full of restrictions, isolation, and stress. The situation is ripe with the ingredients for a chaotic atmosphere, and it's one that colleges will have to do their best to manage.

Partying and college have become synonymous to the degree that they are expected. For many, this chance to operate with autonomy is a rite of passage that often involves the use of substances. Drugs and alcohol are not strangers to the college campus, and first-year students seem to be particularly liable to misuse them. In many cases, they look up to upper-level students for guidance or an example of how to manage socializing and academics. But this year, without that factor, we could see a perfect storm of sorts.

Our nation is currently facing the worst addiction crisis of all time. The COVID-19 pandemic occurred just as we were starting to see some traction in the opioid epidemic, compounding both problems.

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The statistics from 2020 were recently compiled, and, sadly, the year brought the highest drug overdose rates ever recorded, as CNN reported this month. And it's not just opioids anymore. Rates for other drug overdoses like stimulants have skyrocketed over the last year, leaving many parents worried for their adult children's safety as they prepare to send them off to college in a post-pandemic world.

If you are a concerned parent or guardian, there are ways to tell if someone is becoming addicted to drugs. Signs like them having less time to talk or avoiding communication can point toward substance use. They don't want their loved ones to know, so they will try to hide it. Another sign is they need more money more frequently. They may even have long-winded reasons for why they need cash, like they lost their books or their materials were stolen, etc. Finally, they will have worse academic performance.

These signs can let someone know that the person is abusing substances, but that's only half the battle. It is vital that you do your best to intervene and help them before it's too late.

Never wait when it comes to addiction. Always act before it's too late.

Michael Leach of Atco, New Jersey, is a certified clinical medical assistant.specializing in substance use disorder and addiction recovery. He wrote this for the News Tribune. Read more of his work at addicted.org.

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