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Travis Willmore:Hooked on everything but phonics

In the course of a typical college career, you tend to develop a lot of unhealthy habits to keep your hectic lifestyle afloat. Not on the level of, say, black tar heroin, but habits that are still quite insidious if they get out of hand.

And they DO get out of hand.

Everyone tells themselves that it can’t happen to them, that they have enough self-restraint to keep things under control. But with the constant pressure of deadlines, time constraints and little sleep, it is easy for relatively minor vices to rise to the level of addiction.

The following handy clip’n’save list outlines a few of the most dangerously inviting habits, the ones that should constantly keep you on the alert for the red flags, the signs that point to when a habit is starting to become an addiction. None of these substances will give you a massive overdose-induced coronary or end up wandering the streets barefoot and penniless, but they can definitely escalate to a point where they are more trouble than they’re worth.

Caffeine/uppers: The most popular forms of this stimulant are coffee (aka black-crack-in-a-cup), Mountain Dew, Jolt and over-the-counter caffeine pills like Yellowjackets.

While nobody would ever consider doing a bunch of crystal meth to help them finish their homework faster, it’s highly commonplace to swill cup after cup of coffee in the interest of keeping you alert long enough to finish that dissertation on the changing role of women in the chicken-packaging industry. Once you really get rolling on a caffeine binge, it’s difficult to stop.

You finish your paper, you clean your room (doing a remarkably good impression of the little old lady in “There’s Something About Mary” (lifting up couches one-handed to vacuum underneath, etc.), you alphabetize your CDs, you go to bed and try to sleep, but just lay there, twitching. You may even write hellaciously run-on sentences. There’s no telling where it might all end.

Cigarettes/tobacco: The worst and the strongest chemical addiction. It starts out as a social thing, everybody smoking downstairs in front of the dorm room.

My definition of addiction, whether it be chemical or psychological, is when you stop just doing something socially and start doing it by yourself as well.

When you have to take a smoke break between classes, after lunch, when you wake up (to relieve the stress of getting a good night’s sleep) or when you’re pounding out yet another disorienting Vanguard opinion column, that’s when you’ve got a problem – a very expensive problem now that the tax on cigarettes has raised prices to around five bucks a pack.

In the long run, it would be cheaper to just buy a gun and shoot yourself at approximately the same age you would be contracting terminal lung cancer from a lifetime of smoking.

Internet: When you’re swamped with homework and don’t have time to leave your room, an easy way to stay connected to the outside world is to remain constantly online. E-mail, and even more insidious, instant-messenger services like AIM and MSN, allow you to maintain the illusion that you’re being productive. After all, you ARE in front of the computer and there IS a window open on the screen containing your senior thesis on how pornography contains subliminal messages about taking your vitamins and exercising your right to vote. The cold, cruel reality is that you’re still getting nothing done because you’re spending all your time chatting on AIM with your friends about the latest ratings on You’re getting a zombie-like greenish tan from the glow of the monitor, you’re developing crippling carpal tunnel syndrome, you are oblivious to the goings-on of the outside world as winter gives way to spring and summer turns to fall …

Beer: This is one case where perception outpaces reality. The common stereotype, reinforced by unrealistic movies about campus life and other images portrayed in the mass media, is that college students are all alcoholics (i.e. hopelessly addicted to beer). Nothing could be further from the truth. Beer to your typical student is nothing more that a mere “social lubricant,” as the old saying goes (no, not THAT kind of social lubricant), that they use sparingly as an adjunct to their already exciting lives. As any PSU student will tell you, they could quit anytime they wanted.