Supporting Healthy Interactions for Students in a Post-Pandemic World

The Making Sense of Science column is a partnership with the University of Maryland School of Public Health, Department of Behavioral and Community Health, Center on Young Adult Health and Development.

It’s 8:30 on a Saturday night. It’s your first semester away at college, and you’re still getting the hang of things. Someone on your hall asks what your plans are for the night. You feel excited because you haven’t made many friends yet. This could be your chance! They say they are going “out.” Do you want to join? You say “sure!” way more confidently than you feel. You go through your closet to pick out something to wear. What look am I going for? Will I seem awkward since it’s my first party? What if someone asks me if I want a drink? What do I talk about? How will I get back at the end of the night? You walk into the party with your new hallmates. The music is loud, and you yell to be heard. You don’t know anyone there and yet everyone else seems to know each other. You get out your phone so you’re not just standing there awkwardly. Someone from your group comes back with a drink and hands it to you. You follow them to a beer pong table in the back of the apartment. You’re nervous because you don’t know how to play, but hey, at least it’s something to do…

If this scenario makes you cringe, it could be because it brings back your own memories as a young adult. Certainly, all of us have felt self-conscious as we began to navigate the world on our own. Though these sometimes-painful experiences are not new, today’s students are trying to fit in, navigate a new place, adjust to a different academic environment, and even decide on a career path on top of the uncertain times that we are all living in right now. They might even start to feel as if their day-to-day stress is not valid when they compare it against a global pandemic, systemic injustice, climate change, and many other world events. In this article, we’ll discuss findings about the impact of the pandemic, make sense of the science regarding the connection between social anxiety and alcohol consumption, and provide some suggestions for healthy ways colleges and universities can support students in having in-person interactions with their peers and others without alcohol.

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