Drinking in College May Lead to the Hookah

college kids smoking hookahDecades before Miley Cyrus revealed to college-age women everywhere that the hookah, or water pipe, is the latest must-have accessory, I found one prominently placed in my childhood home. I was 15 and had just returned from a summer at sleepaway camp. In my absence, my parents had traveled to Turkey where they purchased said hookah and displayed it proudly in our home’s lower level, not far from the billiard table. I suppose they thought it was a cool visual—I honestly don’t believe it was ever used for anything other than viewing.

Fast forward 30 years, and now it’s me, my husband and our children walking the streets of Istanbul. Hookahs are sold and smoked everywhere—as a matter of fact it’s not a strange sight to see people of all ages smoking the tobacco (much of it is flavored–pineapple? vanilla anyone?) from a hookah while playing chess in outdoor cafes.

It never occurred to me to smoke from a hookah, and I never imagined my kids would want to–or even have the opportunity. But obviously, I wasn’t keeping up with the times. According to new research from the Miriam Hospital’s Center for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine, almost one quarter of college women try smoking tobacco from a hookah for the first time during their freshman year. Did I mention my daughter just finished her first year of college?

The study, which was published online by the Psychology of Addictive Behaviors journal, revealed a potential link between hookah smoking and alcohol and marijuana use. An article from Science Daily reported that “researchers found the more alcohol women consumed, the more likely they were to experiment with hookah smoking, while women who used marijuana engaged in hookah smoking more frequently than their peers.”

The problem is that many college students believe mistakenly that smoking from a hookah is safer than cigarettes. Hookahs, however, have been linked to lung cancer and other diseases similar to those brought on by cigarette smoking.

“The popularity and social nature of hookah smoking, combined with the fact that college freshmen are more likely to experiment with risky behavior, could set the stage for a potential public health issue, given what we know about the health risks of hookah smoking,” said lead author Robyn L. Fielder, M.S., a research intern at The Miriam Hospital’s Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine, in the article on Science Daily. Fielder says the findings corroborate prior research showing strong correlations between hookah and other substance use, but their research is the first to show that alcohol and marijuana use are prospectively related to hookah initiation.

The study, which was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), consisted of a survey of 483 first-year female college students and asked about their hookah use before college, followed by 12 monthly online surveys about their experience with hookah smoking. Of the 343 participants who did not report precollege hookah use, 79 students (or 23 percent) tried smoking a hookah during their freshman year.

As a parent, the concern is naturally that your kid is going to try this or that because that’s what other kids are trying. Hookah smoking seems a lot more enticing, I imagine, to many students who see cigarettes as outdated–and practically verboten in every public place anyway. But if they do a little research, they’ll learn that hookah smoking is not exactly a new phenomenon and originated in ancient Persia and India.

I have not asked my daughter yet if she’s come across any hookah-smoking parties at school. But with this new research, I’m inclined to ask. I’m not sure I’ll bring her to my parents’ house anytime soon, however, for fear that she’ll see their imported hookah and ask if she can bring it back to school for her sophomore year.


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Interview with Chloe Caldwell, Author of The Essay Collection, “Legs Get Led Astray”

Each week, we post short interviews with interesting people about their thoughts and feelings on women and drinking. There is such a wide array of perspectives about this topic, and we are excited to gain insight into as many as possible and to share them with you. 

Chloe Caldwell is the author of the essay collection, Legs Get Led AstrayHer non-fiction has appeared in The Rumpus, Nylon Magazine, The Nervous Breakdown, Chronogram, The Frisky, The Sun Magazine, SMITH Magazine, Jewcy, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, Vol 1. Brooklyn, Freerange Nonfiction and The Faster Times.She is the founder and curator of the Hudson River Loft Reading Series and has taught Creative Writing workshops at Omega Teen Camp, The Hudson Opera House, and Crow Arts Manor. Chloe splits her time living in upstate New York and Portland, Oregon.

 Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?

Chloe Caldwell: I tried sips of my dad’s beer as a kid, I’m pretty sure. Maybe around age nine. When I was twelve-ish, I had a bunch of girlfriends sleep over and we snuck into the pantry and drank some disgusting expired spirits. Or maybe we were just drinking balsamic vinegar.

How did/does your family treat drinking?

My parents both drink, but we never had an alcoholism problem in our family. Sometimes my dad will drink a beer with dinner, sometimes he won’t. My mom likes her red wine and nothing else. There’s always a decent amount of alcohol at family gatherings.

How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?

I try to be smart. I’ll ask myself if I really feel like drinking. This is new for me. I used to just drink more than I should. My eyes were bigger than my stomach. I’m trying to be more mindful in everything I do–drinking and eating, especially.

Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less?

I drank the most when I was twenty-one through twenty-three. It’s when I was living in New York City, and I was drinking something of a disgusting amount of mixed drinks most days and nights.

What’s your drink of choice? Why?

Red wine. It relaxes me. Holy shit, I sound exactly like my mom.

Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking?

I’ve had lots of good times drinking. But in truth, I think the best time drinking I’ve ever had was in high school. My senior class was really tight and on Friday and Saturday nights we’d always go to a  boy named Lars’s barn, to hang out. The barn was empty except for a large mirror covering one wall. We danced for hours to Kanye West and Eminem and R.Kelly and drank Budweiser and Coors Lite.

What about the worst time?

Any time I cry in public or act like an aggressive douche-bag.

Do you have a favorite book, song, or movie about drinking?

I would like to read Are You There Vodka? It’s me Chelsea. I like when Elliott Smith sings, “With an open container from Seven Eleven…” and when Connor Oberst sings, “Cause there’s this switch that gets hit and it all stops making sense and in the middle of drinks maybe the fifth or sixth, I’m completely alone at a table of friends…I feel nothing for them, I feel nothing, nothing.” And Hush Arbors have a song where they sing, “There’s whiskey in that bottle and blood on the floor..”

What do you like most about drinking?

That it changes me.

Why do, or don’t you, choose to drink?

I think any time we use a substance, be it coffee, alcohol, or drugs, it’s to escape ourselves a little bit. Like in The Lemonheads song “Drug Buddy” he sings, “I’m too much with myself, I wanna be someone else.”


Pot vs. Alcohol—Are We Asking The Right Questions?

Which is safer, pot or alcohol? Which is “better”? If you had to pick, which would you prefer your teenagers to do—smoke pot or drink alcohol? The debate has been roaring, now more than ever, considering that legalization of marijuana (in small amounts) is on the table in Colorado. The ballot proposal is called “The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012.”

There’s even a site called saferchoice.org, which touts marijuana as the “safer” choice. Last I read, marijuana use was up among teens, and alcohol was down, but the pendulum always swings back and forth, back and forth.

So which is safer/better/preferable?

Is this the question we really should be asking? It’s not like alcohol’s going to swap places with pot and we’re going to go back to the days of Prohibition. By this time, alcohol is a given part of our culture, like tv and the internet.

I realize there are compelling arguments for the legalization of marijuana (supposedly no one has ever overdosed on pot; people get less violent when they smoke pot, not more, like they do when they drink; making pot illegal taxes our criminal justice system–you can find many of these arguments online), but still—Why add another drug to the roster of iffy life choices? Why make it easy?

And do we really want to add toker-moms and dads to the growing ranks of “cocktail moms” (and dads!)? Instead of sneaking into their parents’ liquor cabinets, teens could sneak into their parents’ pot stashes!  We don’t need to model another easy “check out of real life” option for our teens.

I’m familiar with the popular argument that if you make something forbidden, it becomes more attractive (see Prohibition), but I also think the converse is true: for some people, the fact that pot is illegal is a deal killer, enough of a deterrent to make them stay away. I know it is for me. I’m a mom of three, and I try to be a role model for my kids. Just the thought of my kids busting me doing something illegal is enough to make me steer clear of this popular suburban pastime. Or the thought of them watching me being handcuffed and carted away, calling after me, “Mom—why would you break the law?!” Maybe I’m just a killjoy, but still…And–full disclosure–maybe I’m biased, as the sister of someone who went to rehab after smoking a little pot led to smoking five times a day, which led to staying emotionally stuck at age 14 (as she’ll tell anyone who asks), which led to harder drugs. Alcohol has always been one thing; drugs, another. And there’s a line between the two that I wouldn’t want my own kids to cross.

At least now, people have to think twice before they light up. First, they have to deal with buying it in secret, and then they have to plan where and when to smoke it so they won’t get caught. This makes smoking pot a more conscious act, rather than a default behavior.

All behavior is healthier when it’s conscious, whether it’s eating, drinking, or whatever else. For example, when drinking becomes mindless bingeing instead of conscious consuming (think: having a great glass of wine to complement a meal), it becomes a slippery slope–a way to escape life’s problems rather than a means of enhancing the sensual experience of life.

Taking drugs has always been a counterculture choice, and that’s how it should remain: counterculture. That’s the allure, and that’s the deterrent. Make it mainstream, and you’ve opened up a whole other can of worms.

Do we really need to put another readily available, time-sucking  temptation in our children’s paths? I say, make it hard and you’ll save a lot of people from addiction and drug dependence.

Examining the effects of his pot-smoking days, memoirist Nic Sheff put it best on the website, The Fix, when he wrote: “For me, all these years later, I still suffer from all the fucking decades I lost to smoking pot. My emotional maturity is probably a little better than a 16-year-old’s (maybe)—but not a whole lot. I basically overreact to any kind of problem I have. And I definitely blame a lot of that on my years getting high.”

In the New York Times Room for Debate section, Brian E. Perron, an Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Michigan, points to the need for further research on marijuana before we jump into fighting for legalization. He concludes that, “…an increase in marijuana use among the teenage population is not good, even if rates for more problematic substances are on the decline. Foremost, we are unclear of the long-term consequences of marijuana use on the developing brain of the adolescent. The potency of marijuana has also increased significantly over the years. Thus, along with an increased sensation of euphoria, we can expect an increase in its addictive potential. The research is also clear that early involvement with substances is associated with heavier use and a variety of other problems later in life. From this perspective, marijuana may be associated with fewer risks in comparison to other substances, but marijuana use does introduce its own set of known and possibly unexpected problems that are deeply concerning.”

That’s enough for me to hold my hand up and say, wait—what’s the rush?  Do we really need another readily available, commonplace drug?

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More Girls Than Ever Are Drinking, Says a New Study


Last week, I danced the night away at an outdoor concert in Brooklyn (the band was Further, a collaboration featuring two of the original members of the Grateful Dead). As I surveyed the crowd, I was amazed at how young the girls (and guys) were, many of them drinking–and doing drugs–openly.

Though I had a great time at the show, I kept getting distracted by the sight of these young girls and the fact that they were not much older than my own teenage daughter.

The scene provoked me to have a conversation with my nearly 17-year-old, during which I described what I saw. To my surprise–you never quite know what type of a reaction you’ll get from a teenager– she was surprisingly attentive and didn’t seem to mind that I was sharing my thoughts and observations about the concert and what I saw.

Only several days later, I came upon the findings of a new study by the Drug Abuse Warning Network, revealing that alcohol and drug abuse in young people has shifted from a decades-long decline to a significant increase in the past two years. As reported on the Huffington Post, the study showed that from 2008 to 2009, alcohol abuse went up 11 percent, and marijuana use up 19 percent. And a most interesting and relevant finding–more girls than ever are drinking and doing drugs.

“Young women in some of these studies have been shown to be equaling their male counterparts,” child and adolescent psychologist Dr. Jennifer Hartstein told CBS in a TV interview. “Which was not usually the case. So we have to question why.”

In the CBS interview, Hartstein recommends that parents do not lie to their children and that they educate them as early as possible about making good choices. I’ve tried to do just that.

What do you parents of young girls think: have you or will you tell your daughters what your experiences have been with alcohol and drugs if/when they ask?

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