Faculty Spotlight: Eating Disorders

Eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder, pose a risk to college students’ physical and mental health. Despite eating disorders being more common among females, eating disorder prevalence in college has risen among both male and female students.1 This increase may be due to a number of triggering events, such as the stress of moving away to college, changes in sleep and eating habits, academic and financial stress, and adjusting to new routines. Similarly, there are a number of biological, psychological, and social risk factors for eating disorders.

The popular perception of eating disorders is that individuals are motivated primarily by a desire to be thin. While this may be true, research indicates that the mechanisms by which disordered eating develops or occurs are more complicated. Low self-esteem, how an individual sees their own value, and depression, may all have an impact on disordered eating.2 However, research among a college student sample found low self-esteem and depression alone does not lead to abnormal eating behavior.2 Body dissatisfaction, a negative view of one’s own body, was found to be a mediator between self-esteem and depression, suggesting that body dissatisfaction, in combination with low self-esteem and depression, may have an important role in the development of abnormal eating behavior.2

What can we do with this information? Understanding and being aware of some of the underlying psychological factors of eating disorders and abnormal eating behavior can help us help students. Eating disorders in college are often untreated or undiagnosed as students will typically hide their behavior. Low self-esteem and signs of depression may be easier to notice in a classroom than abnormal eating behavior. Reaching out to students, fostering a body positive environment, and providing them with resources (such as the Counseling Center) are a great way to support students who may be struggling with low self-esteem, depression, body dissatisfaction, or abnormal eating behavior.

For more information about eating disorders and signs of abnormal eating behavior, visit the National Eating Disorders Association.

1National Eating Disorders Association (2013). Eating disorders on the college campus. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/sites/default/files/CollegeSurvey/CollegiateSurveyProject.pdf

2Lim, S. A., & You, S. (2017). Effects of self-esteem and depression on abnormal eating behavior among Korean female college students: Mediating role of body dissatisfaction. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 26, 176-182. doi: 10.1007/s10826-016-0542-2

Motives for Alcohol Use

Over the past few weeks, we’ve covered “study drugs”, cigarette smoking, vaping, MDMA, and painkillers. However, the most common substance used on college campuses, by far, is alcohol.

Alcohol is just about everywhere – grocery stores, restaurants, sporting events, live shows, TV shows and movies, advertisements, the list goes on. As soon as you’re 21, it’s assumed you’ve at least tried alcohol. On college campuses, alcohol use is popular although it’s usually prohibited. Previously we’ve covered making informed choices concerning alcohol, myths about alcohol, and the effects of binge drinking, but have you ever asked yourself why you use alcohol?

Research has indicated four motives of alcohol use among college students: social, enhancement, conformity, and coping. Social motives include “liquid courage” and the way alcohol can make you feel more friendly and fun around others. Drinking for the effect of intoxication (getting drunk) is the enhancement motive and drinking to fit in with others is the conformity motive. Lastly, the coping motive is drinking to feel better, either physically or mentally.

All of these motives have been linked to either drinking more frequently, drinking higher amounts, or more alcohol-related problems, like driving under the influence or academic problems. While you may ultimately be faced with the decision to either drink or not to drink – it’s important to ask yourself why you’re drinking so you can be aware of the consequences and monitor your own use of alcohol. Lastly, while alcohol use is the norm for most individuals over 21, it doesn’t have to be your norm – do what is best for you.

If you or someone you care about are struggling with alcohol use, please reach out to the Counseling Center or call the 24-hour Crisis Line at (206) 461-3222.


Painkillers are not only prescription opioids, such as OxyContin (oxycodone) and Vicodin (hydrocodone), but can include over the counter painkillers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and Tylenol. When taken as prescribed and how they’re meant to be used, painkillers can be helpful for alleviating the short-term pain of injuries and illnesses. However, when taken more frequently or at higher doses, painkillers, especially prescription opioids, become dangerous.

College student use of prescription painkillers has increased tremendously and is a common problem on campuses. For some students, they’re a way to alleviate stress.  For others, they are after the numb feeling painkillers can provide. For other students, though, the repeated use of prescription painkillers is not intentional.

The rise of prescription opioids and overdoses is largely due to the over prescription of painkillers. Student athletes are especially at risk of painkiller abuse. Prescriptions for sport-related injuries are common but sometimes student athletes are given prescriptions that are longer than necessary, leading to prolonged use and sometimes addiction. Opioids are also often prescribed after minor surgeries, such as having wisdom teeth removed.

Why are painkillers dangerous? Aside from being addictive, painkillers are often mixed with other substances, such as alcohol. The combination of alcohol and painkillers can slow breathing and cause death. Long-term use of painkillers can also impair cognition and memory. Even long-term use of over the counter painkillers can cause liver and kidney failure if used too often.

If you find yourself with a prescription for painkillers, only take them if necessary. You may be prescribed more than you need and if you are, dispose of them safely and do not use them recreationally – it’s not worth the risk to your health. If you or someone you care about are struggling with painkiller use, please reach out to the Counseling Center or call the 24-hour Crisis Line at (206) 461-3222.

Party Drugs: MDMA

Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, aka MDMA, is one of the most glamorized party drugs. Now, commonly known as “Molly”, MDMA is also the main ingredient in Ecstasy, which is usually mixed with other illicit drugs, such as LSD or speed. MDMA is one of the more popular party drugs among 18-25 year olds.

What are the effects on your brain and body?

  • MDMA impairs your ability to make judgment calls and can lead to poor decision-making, such as unsafe sex.
  • The flood of the drug on your brain alters naturally occurring chemicals (such as dopamine and serotonin), leading to later symptoms of depression and anxiety. This is especially impairing over the next several weeks after using the drug as your brain attempts to get back to its normal levels. MDMA can have negative long-lasting effects on brain chemistry.
  • MDMA increases your heart rate and body temperature, potentially leading to liver and kidney damage. Muscle tension, blurry vision, and nausea are common side effects, too.

While MDMA is an illegal drug, which already marks it as unsafe, it is even more problematic since it is unregulated – meaning that you never know what other drugs are mixed in. Despite media portrayal of MDMA as a nonaddictive drug, young adults are still dying from the use of MDMA – often in the form of Ecstasy and Molly that has been laced with other drugs.

If you or someone you care about are struggling with drug use, please reach out to the Counseling Center or call the 24-hour Crisis Line at (206) 461-3222.

Vaping and Smoking

Cigarette use among college students has declined and the use of alternative ways of smoking has increased. As of 2017, over 2,000 college campuses across the nation have made an effort to reduce cigarette use, with many of them becoming smoke-free campuses. SPU went smoke-free as of 2005.

What is vaping and is it safe? Despite the myth that vapes and e-cigarettes consist of flavored water vapor, vaping is actually the inhalation and exhalation of a chemical aerosol. In contrast, when smoking a cigarette, you are inhaling and exhaling tobacco smoke. What vaping, e-cigarettes, and cigarettes all have in common are various levels of nicotine, which is known for its addictive effect. While vaping and e-cigarettes have less nicotine than cigarettes, this has led to many believing that vaping or e-cigarettes are a safe or better alternative to smoking cigarettes.

While research is in progress to understand the long-term effects of vaping and e-cigarettes, the chemicals found in these devices are already known to cause lung damage and other physical health problems. Nicotine in any form acts as a stimulant, increasing your heart rate, and effects dopamine levels (the neurotransmitter in your brain that tells you something feels good). Media popularizes the idea that vaping and e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes, however, less harm does not mean harmless.

Stress plays a big role in why people smoke or vape and stress can come in many forms – maybe it’s stress from wanting to join in with your friends when they smoke or vape, or maybe it’s academic or financial stress. While quitting cold turkey or switching to things like nicotine gum or the patch can help with quitting, reducing your stress overall will be helpful. Check out these tips on reducing stress to help with making healthier choices.

"Study Drugs"

One in five college students abuse prescription stimulants, meaning they are taking drugs such as Adderall, Ritalin, or Vyvanse, without a prescription or at a higher dose than prescribed. These drugs, known as “study drugs”, are often prescribed to individuals who have difficulty focusing, paying attention, or who have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

One of the most common myths about “study drugs” is that they will help otherwise healthy individuals hyper-focus on a task or project.

This is not true. While individuals who are prescribed these drugs are boosting their body’s naturally occurring chemicals (neurotransmitters) to a normal level – individuals who take “study drugs” without a prescription are at risk of developing anxiety, decreased sleep, increased blood pressure, disorganized thinking, and the jitters. Instead of hyper-focusing, you end up overwhelming your body’s naturally occurring chemicals. In fact, students who take prescription stimulants, actually have lower GPA’s than students who do not take them!

With the stress of classes and deadlines, it can be tempting to take a “study drug”. However, there is not a magic drug that can make you perform well in class or help you cram the night before an exam. In fact, it may even end up being more damaging to your performance. Time management and meeting goals are two of the most common reasons students use “study drugs”. Fortunately, there are ways you can manage your time and set goals on your own.

If you find yourself or someone you care about struggling with drugs, please reach out to the Counseling Center or call the 24-hour Crisis Line at (206) 461-3222. It’s always ok to need help!