Increase in Student Substance Abuse Provokes Concern from Administration and Student Body

There has been a significant increase in student substance abuse on campus this year, according to Student Body Co-President Nigel Savage ’23 and Dr. Susan Esty, Dean of Students and Residential Life. Both Savage and Esty confirmed that there have been more student emergency room visits for acute intoxication in the 2022-2023 school year than in the recent past.  Dr. Amy Patel, Dean of Health and Wellness and Chief Medical Officer, did not respond to requests for comment in time for this article. 

On February 16, Esty sent an email to the Andover community on behalf of the Deans Team. “We are increasingly concerned about substance use on campus. There have been too many cases of acute intoxication this year,” she wrote. The email also noted that alcohol overdose could be life-threatening. In an interview with The Phillipian, Esty added that the school was seeing higher-than-usual blood alcohol levels in students who visited the emergency room.

“When the hospital reports to [The Rebecca M.] Sykes [Wellness Center] that someone was that impaired, that’s scary for us. I’m sure that person wasn’t even thinking, right? At a certain point too, you’re not even capable of making a judgment about how much you’re drinking. So I’m sure that person wasn’t thinking, ‘This could change my life forever. This could change everybody’s life forever.’ Because I think students tend to think that alcohol is lower-risk than it is. I think that’s the part where when we get a [blood alcohol] number that’s that high, we’re like, ‘Holy smokes, do they not realize how dangerous that is?’” Esty said. 

Savage also registered his concern that students were putting themselves at risk through substance abuse. While he did not have access to information about each case, Savage hypothesized that increased stress among students could be one of the causes of the increase in substance abuse.

 “I think [the reason] is probably an increase in mental health challenges. Which is why you’re seeing more and more students trying to escape from something. But that’s just my own opinion. I don’t know if that’s backed up by fact, because I don’t have access to those numbers,” Savage said.

Emily Turnbull ’24 added her opinion on the recent increase of substance abuse, identifying stress as a potential cause. She commented on how Andover needs more resources on campus.

“I think this is kind of the first real year back from Covid[-19]. And so it’s kind of coming back to higher expectations, more volume of work… This is a really stressful time for everyone… I think that stress is really getting compounded at this time, and there’s a lack of mental health resources on campus. There is not enough help for the people who need it,”  said Turnbull.

Similarly, Esty acknowledged that stress levels could be one of the factors behind the increase in substance abuse.

“Now, we’re sort of back to a regular schedule of school and co-curriculars and social life and I think it’s a lot. We’re seeing a mental health crisis across this country for sure, if not around the globe. The numbers are quite clear. So I’m not surprised that people would find resuming the full package stressful… [because] why wouldn’t you be stressed? You did not have to juggle all those things two years ago,” Esty said. 

When asked what the school was doing to address the issue, Esty shared that Dr. Raynard Kington, Head of School, had convened a committee to look into substance use education and prevention, which has lined up more substance education programming, including speakers scheduled to visit campus. She also noted that the school was in the process of gathering data through the Independent School Health Check Survey conducted on Tuesday, and seeking student input on the issue.