Over winter break I tried something new to relax after a day of stress — the ground root of the kava plant. Gulping down the Pacific drink and chasing its earthy flavor with a few pineapple cubes, I felt my mind come to ease and my body slow down. Wondering if I felt more drunk or high, I learned that drinking kava provides a fun way to combat student stress and anxiety without becoming intoxicated.
In the spring semester of 2017, students ranked academics as the most “traumatic or difficult to handle” item out of a list that also included the death of a loved one, social relationships and family problems, according to the UT-Austin Executive Summary. Fifty-three percent of students also reported stress or anxiety negatively impacted their academic careers in the past 12 months.
While universities all across the country tackle student stress and anxiety with services, such as nap pods and meditation groups, college students explore other options on their own time. According to the same survey, 68.7 percent of students had consumed alcohol in the past 30 days.
In a 2017 Penn State study, researchers found that students who drink to relieve stress are at a much higher risk of developing drinking problems later in life. With a majority of students both drinking and feeling overwhelming stress, it’s time students explore other available options to calm down when stressed. Kava offers a similar, yet healthier, alternative to drinking your way out of university-induced anxiety.
“A lot of the time people will drink Kava just so that they can relax,” said Mark Magallanez, who works at Austin’s local kava bar, SquareRut Kava Bar. “Some strains are more physical or mental clarity strains. One of our strains is specifically for anti-anxiety. It really helps that scattered brain, and it helps people feel a little more present and in the moment.”
While it is similar to alcohol in that it couples physical and psychological effects — euphoria and relaxation — the drink does not affect mental clarity or put users at risk of alcoholism later in life.
“The relation to alcohol is probably the tension release and the bubbly feeling you could get from that second or third drink without having to experience vertigo or any sort of inebriation,” Magallanez said. “I call it the empathy drink because it makes you a little more social, and you’re not getting intoxicated at all. The only thing is you’re getting dehydrated.”
Austin is the only city in Texas that is home to a kava lounge, a place to buy and enjoy the relaxing drink. UT students have unique access to purchase the already-made drink at SquareRut Kava Lounge on Barton Springs or North Lamar, or to purchase the kava powder and make it at home.
With stress, anxiety and drinking playing a significant role in many UT students’ lives, it is time students branch out and appreciate the unique lifestyle Austinites have in their backyards. Kava can provide solace from stress and anxiety in a healthier way than alcohol. It’s time we all tackle the root of our academic struggles — stress and anxiety — in a nondestructive way with the kava plant.
McWhorter is a journalism junior from San Francisco, California.