Each month, half (49.4 percent, to be precise) of all full-time college students between the ages of 18 and 22 binge drink, abuse prescription drugs, and/or use illegal drugs, and each year more than 1,700 students die from alcohol poisoning and alcohol-related injuries. It is simply a matter of adding a few details to these statistics, which have been provided by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), to turn these numbers into every parent’s nightmare. These pitiful numbers are also the context in which Chiara DeBlasio, the daughter of New York City's mayor, has been recognized as a role model for young people battling substance abuse and mental health issues. By all accounts, last week’s award given to Chiara, 19, by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is fitting.
In a recent essay published in xoJane, Chiara described herself as a “young woman in recovery,” while discussing her struggles with remaining sober. “My current daily routine begins with waking up anxious, my chest pinched tight as I try to shake the sleep off of my heavy eyelids,” Chiara wrote. Reflecting on Happy, a documentary she recently watched, she agreed with the filmmaker’s belief that 10 percent of happiness is determined by our external conditions, 40 percent by our actions, and half by our genetic predisposition. Chiara noted that she counts herself among those born with depressive tendencies: “I was not born a happy person.” Although she “drank and did drugs” while still in high school, it wasn’t until college that she began to get the help she needed.
Has Chiara identified some kind of typical teen progression, one that parent’s would be wise to learn from when providing support to their own children? College, as many parents remember, is a time when people see who they really are.
“When I went away to college, I didn’t really do the proper mental and emotional work to prepare myself, I kind of just thought that all my problems would go away if I just got on a plane and flew 3,000 miles,” said Chiara in her video. Though she went to class, she was deeply unhappy with her self-abusive behavior beyond academics, and it was at this point she turned to her supportive family and got the help she needed to turn around this increasingly sad situation.
And sad is exactly what it means for students abusing drugs in college. Though most people think getting high is simply fun, for many, the experience can turn terrifying. Each year, nearly 700,000 students are assaulted by classmates who were drinking, while 100,000 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assaults and rapes. How many of those preyed upon were drinking themselves? Too much is not fun and never very pretty.
College life reveals long-hidden pain. For this reason, it may be the perfect time for parents to take a hard look at their children and provide much-needed support upon seeing any signs of a struggle — whether those signs be substance abuse, an eating disorder, or other unhealthy behaviors. Though legally an adult, Chiara is still young enough to make much-needed corrections and straighten out her life. Admitting it has not been easy, she nevertheless said, “Getting sober is always a positive thing … Removing substances from my life has opened so many doors for me.” Certainly, the same would be true for every college student facing addiction.