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Monthly Archives: August 2016

The Pros and Cons of Greek Life: Joining a Fraternity or Sorority

college greek life

One of the biggest decisions incoming college students face is whether to join a fraternity or sorority. And, if you’re a student who struggles with learning disabilities, mental health issues or misuse of alcohol or substances, the question about whether joining a fraternity or sorority can be even more complicated.

For example, if you’re a student who is prone to depression and isolation, would “going Greek” ensure a healthy network of friendships and connections, or would the pressure to fit in simply compound your anxiety? If you suffer from a learning disability, would you be able to get help with your schoolwork from your fraternity brothers, or would they make it even harder to concentrate?

At some colleges, the Greek system is enormously influential. Joining a fraternity or sorority can determine who you’re friends with for the next four years, where you live, who you date, and even your career after graduation. But not all fraternities and sororities fit a common stereotype, and the impact of Greek life varies from school to school.

Before making the leap, incoming freshman should consider both the benefits and disadvantages to membership.

First, the good news:

  1. Ease of making friends: Students who suffer from social anxiety or have difficulty connecting with and sustaining friendships may find that joining a fraternity or a sorority is a great way to bond with others and feel a crucial sense of acceptance and belonging.
  2. Leadership training: Every member of a fraternity or sorority is expected to do their part to keep the organization running. Whether they’re working their way up to chapter president or organizing charity fundraisers, members get direct responsibility for projects that teach discipline and follow-through. This can boost your self-esteem, and those accomplishments also look pretty good on a resume.
  3. Academic achievement:Numerous studies have found that college students in the Greek system do better academically and have higher graduation rates than the average college student. That’s not surprising when you consider that fraternities and sororities have built-in accountability systems: older “brothers” and “sisters” are responsible for tracking the academic progress of younger members. Most Greek organizations have minimum GPA requirements for members and offer support such as group study sessions to keep them on track.
  4. Networking:The benefits of Greek life go beyond the college years. Greek alumni organizations are powerful networking organizations, giving recent grads access to mentors in their chosen field. According to research by the Center for the Study of the College Fraternity at Indiana University, the vast majority of U.S. Presidents, senators and Fortune 500 executives were members of Greek organizations in college—proof that those college connections can pay off.
  5. Doing good: Philanthropy is a central tenant of almost every Greek organization, and on many campuses, individual fraternities and sororities are known for the fundraisers they organize each year. The impact of such charity work is impressive; the National Panhellenic Council, an umbrella organization that represents 26 national sororities on more than 670 campuses, estimates that its student and alumnae members raise more than $30 million a year for charity.
  6. Prime housing: Most Greek organizations require members to live in the chapter house at some point during college, and at some colleges, that housing is a considerable step up from the dormitories. This perk, obviously, varies from campus to campus.

Now, some potential pitfalls:

  1. Time Commitment: Greek life, if you are going to get the most out of it, is a serious commitment. Those students who have difficulty with time management, those with learning disabilities that require additional time for studies, or students who want to pursue other interests outside of Greek life should be cautious about the time needed to invest in a fraternity or sorority.
  2. Cost:College costs are already high, and good luck trying to find out exactly how much more you’ll pay to join a fraternity or sorority; most college websites are purposely vague on that subject. The few schools that do publicize such information—including the University of Alabama and Florida State University—estimate fees of $3,500 to $2,300 per semester (including some meals but not housing). The heaviest financial hit comes in the first year of membership, which includes initiation fees. While most fraternities and sororities do offer scholarships and financial aid, going Greek means paying more.
  3. Alcohol abuse:You don’t have to have seen Animal House to know that fraternities have become more associated with drinking games than brotherhood in popular culture. Greek organizations are intended to be social, which means frequent parties and tailgates and other opportunities for drinking to spin out-of-control. And if you’re a student who has experienced binge drinking, blackouts or other problems with alcohol or substances during high school, going Greek may lead to even worse consequences.
  4. Hazing:According to the National Study of Student Hazing, developed by professors Mary Madden and Elizabeth Allan at the University of Maine, more than half of college students who participate in clubs or organizations experience hazing. That figure was even higher (70 percent) for students who join a Greek-letter organization. Though colleges as a whole are making a serious effort to cut down on hazing—and most fraternities and sororities have explicit anti-having policies—students continue to be injured and even die from such abuse, and the negative mental health impact of hazing can last for years afterwards.

Ultimately, the decision to go Greek is a deeply personal one. But it’s one that will be easier to make if you’ve done your homework first.

The dangers of abusing Adderall


Call it a case of unintended consequences. Twenty years ago, the prescription medication Adderall debuted as a treatment for narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A stimulant, with amphetamine as its active ingredient, Adderall helped sufferers of narcolepsy stay awake, but it also increased mental focus and endurance for those diagnosed with ADHD.

Because of its effectiveness and usually mild side effects, Adderall quickly became a common treatment for ADHD. But as its popularity increased, use of Adderall also began spreading beyond the people it was intended for. Today, students without ADHD regularly take Adderall as a study aid, in order to work longer and later than they would be able to otherwise. In 2009, 5 percent of American high school students were using Adderall for non-medical reasons, according to a University of Michigan Study—a rate that increased to 7 percent in 2013. A recent review of multiple studies published in the journal Postgraduate Medicine estimated that up to 10 percent of high school students and 5 to 35 percent of college students are misusing stimulants.

There’s no question that Adderall (along with related stimulants such as Ritalin) can be enormously helpful for young adults with ADHD, who might otherwise feel overwhelmed by the demands of schoolwork or a first job.

“For those who have documented ADHD and no history of substance abuse, Adderall can be extremely helpful in sustaining attention, following through on tasks, and other executive functioning skills required for learning,” says Dr. David Baron, Medical Director at Yellowbrick and Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at The Chicago Medical School.

But because Adderall directly affects the brain’s dopamine level, it can also become habit-forming, especially when it’s taken on an ad hoc, “as needed” basis, and it can be dangerous. “Taken in too-large doses, it has potentially dangerous or even lethal side effects, including hallucinations, other psychotic symptoms, strokes or heart attacks,” Baron says.

Even students who take the drug at relatively low doses are still at risk for common side effects such as loss of appetite and sleeplessness—both of which can ultimately affect their schoolwork and everyday functioning.

Researchers at the University of Michigan study have also found a link between misuse of stimulants and later substance abuse. According to a recent study of more than 40,000 individuals, children who began taking stimulant medications for ADHD in elementary school were at no greater risk for later substance abuse than the general population. But young people who began taking unprescribed ADHD medications in middle or high school—when it was easier to obtain the drugs without a medical diagnosis—were significantly more likely to abuse other drugs or alcohol in the future.

To control “recreational” Adderall use, Baron says doctors need better ways of determining exactly who has ADHD—and therefore who will benefit medically from a prescription. “Diagnosing ADHD can be complicated and at times confusing, both to patient and prescriber,” he says. Symptoms that may seem like ADHD may not be, and people who don’t experience the classic symptom of hyperactivity may still have ADHD but never be diagnosed.

“Adderall is probably both overprescribed—for those who report trouble concentrating and don’t have ADHD—and under-prescribed, for the many people whose symptoms of ADHD are either unrecognized or unreported,” he says.

As the tools for diagnosing ADHD become more sophisticated, it may become easier to determine who will truly benefit from taking Adderall. That will mean fewer prescriptions obtained by fraudulent means and less Adderall available for sale at schools. “The psychiatric profession and primary-care physicians have increasing opportunities to become more adept at differentiating actual indications for Adderall and other stimulant medications, which may increase their appropriate use,” Baron says.

Parents and educators can also help by addressing the underlying reasons students who don’t have ADHD take Adderall. Many overworked, overachieving students think the only way they can keep up is to pop a pill. Teaching better study habits, keeping workloads manageable and setting reasonable expectations are all important ways to support students who might otherwise think Adderall is the only answer.