Vices: why we do what we know we shouldn’t

Megan Miller


A vice is defined as immoral conduct, or depraved or degrading behavior, and there are plenty to be found on the University of Alabama campus.

Some of the most practiced at the University include people-pleasing and over-working, subjection to UV rays while tanning, use of recreational drugs and smoking cigarettes. Although these behaviors aren’t always harmful in small doses, they often become habitual because of peer pressure, new found independence or a desire to experiment.

“I would say that students engaging in what could be considered self destructive behavior is fairly common,” Jennifer Turner, coordinator of clinical services at the UA Counseling Center, said.

Samantha Doss, a sophomore majoring in nursing, said she started experimenting with cigarettes when she was 11 years old, but didn’t actually start smoking until she got to college.

“I liked the feeling of putting something into my lungs other than oxygen and feeling a sort of change from it,” Doss said. “It wasn’t really a conscious decision either. I had tried smoking before and hated everything about it, but there was something about the habit that made it addicting.”

Doss said at first, she didn’t like the head change or the taste she experienced when smoking cigarettes, but as soon as she found cigarettes she liked the taste of, she became addicted.

“I didn’t think that I was ‘addicted’ until I caught myself reaching for one just because I was in the car,” Doss said.

Doss said she’s quit smoking before and found it easy, but she falls right back into habit because she considers it to be more of a social activity that you participate in when there isn’t anything else to occupy your attention.

“It’s such a regular habit which pairs with certain things so well that I don’t even notice I’m doing it,” Doss said. “I’ve quit before, so I know I can stop when I want to. I intend to stop when I feel like I really have to.”

Heavy alcohol consumption often becomes a problem for some students when they arrive at college, because many of them have never had a drink before and aren’t aware of their limits or the effects drinking will have on them.

Delynne Wilcox, assistant director of health planning and prevention for the student health center, said the binge drinking rate has remained constant between 40 percent and 44 percent for the last 50 years.

“There’s a level of glamorization about alcohol consumption among college students,” Wilcox said. “There’s a disconnect between what students perceive they’ll get out of alcohol consumption over what actually happens.”

Wilcox said she thinks social media has caused students to forget how to interact with each other, and consuming alcohol often helps them loosen up in social situations.

“It’s always a challenge to have social skills, and they fall back on alcohol as a crutch to help loosen them up,” Wilcox said.

Although students complete AlcoholEdu before they begin their freshman year, Wilcox said the resources for AlcoholEdu are available throughout the school year. A short period of maintenance takes place over the summer, and then the program opens up again in July.

Wilcox said AlcoholEdu is in one of the top tiers of effective alcohol education programs in the country, and generally 80 percent of students that take the course walk away with a piece of knowledge they did not know prior to taking the course.

In addition to the AlcoholEdu program, Wilcox said health websites can be helpful for educating oneself on drinking, the University offers one-on-one consultation with students, and there are a variety of resources in the lobby of the student health center as well.

“Students need to be aware of where their sources are coming from and be critical of it,” Wilcox said. “With apps and so forth students need to be cautioning of what the app is really trying to do and think critically of it.”

Another common vice among ambitious students is overworking. Although staying busy may seem like a positive thing, the inability to say no to taking on another project can lead to being spread to thin and not enjoying day-to-day life.

Morgan Embry, a junior majoring in dance in the New College said from a young age, she had an excess of energy and took on as many activities as possible to expend it, and never grew out of that phase of her life.

“Every semester, I get overly ambitious and try to do everything,” Embry said. “For instance, this semester I am a Spanish tutor, I am a teacher’s assistant, I am taking 16 hours of classes, I am a member of Alabama Repertory Dance Theater, I choreographed for and am performing in Dance Alabama!, I am choreographing for the theatre department of the University of West Alabama’s spring production, and many weekends every month I am out of town speaking at churches about my upcoming summer mission work in Portugal. I wouldn’t know what to do with my free time if I did manage to find some.”

Embry said she likes to be known as a dependable friend, but she needs to work on saying no before she takes on too much.

“When I spread myself too thin and try to do too much, I find myself not enjoying any of the stuff that I do,” Embry said. “Although I fill my schedule with things that I love and am passionate about, or maybe just simply enjoy, if I am overworked then my joy is gone. When I reach the realization that my life seems like nothing but work and a hassle and if I live in a constant rush to get somewhere or do something, then I know it is time to cut back.”

Sheena Gregg, assistant director of health education and prevention at the UA Student Health Center, said the most common vice she sees on campus is a poor diet.

“The biggest issue that is seen with the students that come in to see me is that there is often the combined negative dietary behavior of skipping meals and then subsequently eating one large meal at the end of the day,” Gregg said. “Often times eating on a routine schedule takes the back burner to other pressing obligations and students therefore find themselves in an overwhelming amount of hunger that can cause them to overeat once they finally have dinner.”

Gregg said she encourages students to pencil in times for meals and snacks, just as they would other behaviors such as studying or exercising.

“Eating on a routine schedule and thus avoiding going longer than four hours between meals and snacks can help keep a student’s metabolism regulated and the brain fully fueled throughout the day,” Gregg said.

Turner said if a student finds themselves participating in self destructive behavior, they should seek out assistance and obtain additional information at the Counseling Center, the Student Health Center and the Psychology Clinic.

“Engage in positive activities that you enjoy, like listening to music, spending time with friends, exercise and volunteering,” Turner said.

Turner said students are always looking for ways to cope with difficult situations, and these behaviors often provide a temporary relief.

Turner said the best thing for students to do if they need help coping with negative behaviors is to consider speaking with a mental health professional and seek out more positive coping mechanisms.