I remember studying for finals last semester and freaking out over my Biology exam. Turning to the help of a few of my smartest buddies, I went to their studying location and was shocked to find that my mastermind friends were high on various substances, including weed, caffeine pills, unprescribed ADD/ADHD medication and cigarettes. Some other kids came in, looking to buy, and another student talked about his future intention to make charts and graphs to determine the cost effectiveness of selling drugs (ADD/ADHD medicine and marijuana) versus getting a legal job. Most of these students are seriously considering becoming professionals in the healthcare industry. Needless to say, my confidence dropped in these future doctors’ ability to propagate physical and emotional well-being to others if they aren’t exemplifying healthful behavior on their own. These particular students posses near genius intelligence on paper (top GPAs in high school, A.P. credits, award winners), yet they deliberately choose to harm their bodies and brains, especially since coming to college.

I remember sitting at the desk, wondering is substance abuse the secret to success in college: using ADHD medicine to concentrate, inhaling pot to dull my anxieties, taking caffeine pills to stay alert and awake, smoking cigarettes to take the edge off. I struggle in the sciences, and just a few weeks before, I experienced a sudden attack of panic because I had spent 13 hours working on a biology lab report and still received a devastating and unacceptable D. Seeing the smartest of my friends on a myriad of drugs made me feel even more inadequate. Sober, I struggle to make an A, so I can’t imagine how appalling the effect would be on my scholastic performance if I started taking drugs, not to mention how drastically drugs would negatively alter the status of my health! Carolina isn’t known as a “party school” and students at Carolina aren’t known to be the biggest party animals; on the contrary, we uphold an image of sophistication and brilliance. Under the pressure to live up to the expectation of collegiate success, some students turn to legal/illegal substances to make it through. They turn to drugs to relax, to concentrate, to remain awake, or to turn off their churning brains.

Let’s explore some healthier and legal options, such as working out (provides a natural high, providing both energy and relaxation) or meditating (provides relaxation and relieves stress). Eating a piece of chocolate or drinking ONE glass of red wine are both good for the heart and provides relaxation. Hanging out with friends, listening to music, practicing a hobby like a sport or crafting… these all provide outlets to release stress. As far as staying awake, vitamin B is a natural supplement that some find energizing. Make healthful choices when eating, and stay hydrated with water for natural alertness. Caffeine is addictive, and yellow stains on teeth are unattractive, so try to nix soda and coffee in favor of vitamin B supplements and fruits and veggies. Also, if you are really stressed out there’s NO shame in talking to a health and wellness counselor. Having someone listen to all of my problems without judgment or interruption and help me make and follow life goals is a productive and healthy alternative to self-medication through substance abuse. Throughout the week, we study relentlessly for exams, listen to our professors lecture us for hours on end, and write long, eloquent papers, so by Friday we are ready to let loose.

Though Carolina isn’t a “party school,” we still like to have fun and party with a “work hard, play hard” attitude. Most first-years aren’t 21, and most sophomores aren’t 21. Yet, the most popular activity to do on the weekends is socialize with alcoholic beverages. I’m not here to preach to you about the legal age. All I want to convey is being safe and smart about drinking. Obviously, don’t leave your cup unattended because date rape drugs may be slipped into them. Don’t drink to the point of blacking out because you may be more likely to engage in unwanted sexual relations, or get used by some jerk and feel horrible in the morning that you can’t remember what happened. Try to make sure to check up on your buddy and leave with the SAME buddy you came with. If you meet someone and want to hook up, know that drinking can influence your decision to hook up with someone you may not ordinarily hook up with while sober, and make sure your buddy is okay with you leaving without her. Make sure she has a safe way home. Use condoms to avoid unwanted pregnancies and STDs. Have the number to Safe Ride plugged into your phone. Also, AT&T has a program that allows its GPS to find you if you are in an unsafe situation. Just remember that excessive drinking can lead to alcohol poisoning, and no one feels like spending the night in the hospital having his or her stomach pumped and dealing with the academic penalization of underage drinking when caught. Be smart about your alcohol consumption.

A variety of safe and healthful options exist that provide the same high that can be obtained by substances. If you want to compete in cuteness and energy with the energizer bunny, grab your iPod and take a jog or don a one-piece swimsuit and swim laps in a pool. While your new hot bod will ensure head turns and stares from everyone on campus, you’ll be striding around with boundless energy. If you want to feel as relaxed as if in the sand with an umbrella drink (virgin strawberry daiquiri!) in hand, or concentrate with the fervor of a monk sitting in meditation, take a yoga class on Franklin. Holding the body in long poses and concentrating on one spot on the wall will stop your mind from spinning, and teach you to concentrate on one subject at a time (i.e. spot on wall). You will not only be relaxed after a session, but you’ll also have a natural way to learn how to concentrate, instead of pills. I hope these tips help for you because I too struggle with needing energy and also feel stressed all the time, but I’ve been able to cope with my stressors by following some of my own suggestions! Try it!

-Kristen Cubero