Friday, March 16, 2007
Binge drinking derails Denise... and others
One of my favorite movies is "Animal House." I've probably seen it a hundred times, but I can still waste a Saturday afternoon laughing at Bluto, Otter and the other brothers of Delta House. Looking back, the drunken escapades in that film seem so tame, almost innocent - especially in these days of "Girls Gone Wild" and the frat boy scene in "Borat."

I've been thinking about college culture since reading a new report from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. The study focused on binge drinking and drug use. The results are fascinating: Nearly half of all students binge drink or abuse drugs, and nearly one in four college students meet the medical criteria for substance abuse and dependence. Now to put that in perspective, that's two and a half times the rate in the general population who meet the same criteria.

Over the past few days, I've been talking about the study with people I know and most of them are not surprised by the findings. In fact, some of them spoke fondly about their own exploits. As one friend said, "Isn't college where you should make mistakes?" He has a point, but as I read the study and talked to experts, it seems these days many students are taking it to extremes. Saturday night bar crawls have become all-week booze fests (with a class here or there). And the drinks are cheap and plentiful - penny beer has almost become a college institution. But along with the partying come the problems. Reported sexual assaults and alcohol related deaths are on the rise. Talk about a buzz kill.

Yesterday, I spoke with Denise, a young woman who took full advantage of the college party scene. (Watch Video)

She ended up quitting school and getting canned from her job because of her drinking. She's been sober now for almost four years and credits a 12-step program for getting her life back together. Denise is back in school and will graduate in May with honors. We asked her what she thinks it would take to curb this dangerous trend of binge drinking and drug abuse. She says there have to be consequences. That's what the CASA report also suggests. (See Study)

I want to know what you think. Do students drink more than they did when you were in school or do you think this report blows it out of proportion? Also, do you think schools should do more to crack down?
I agree that binge drinking is a current and growing problem in colleges. I graduated with my bachelors degree in 2005. During college, I was one of the minorities who chose not to drink - not for religious purposes - just because I chose not to. (I have 2 sisters and both of them drank in college.) Because of this decision, I had fewer friends. Although everyone was nice and respected my choice, I was constantly pressured to get drunk. Many "friends" wanted to be the ones to get me drunk first. Therefore, although I am a social person, I ended up spending many weekend nights alone to avoid the peer pressure. Thankfully, I did have a close group of friends who also chose not to get drunk every Th, Fri and Sat. Instead, we went camping, rockclimbing and got involved in other activites. One thing I personally hate is hearing people brag about thier bing drinking experiences...I'm glad they are proud to be ruining thier livers and engaging in promiscuos sex. Today, I do not regret my decision to not drink and feel that I had a great college exerience I can actually remember.
. Do students drink more than they did when you were in school or do you think this report blows it out of proportion? Also, do you think schools should do more to crack down

I think students definitely drink more in school now partly being because its been part of our culture (since our parents did it), and students are know more than ever dealing with greater pressures from academics to the outside world with events in the news. I only think schools should do more to crack down if it students are dieing or getting in accidents where it could harm other people. Because then they themselves become weapons.
if you put adults with no responsibilities, no kids, class 2-3 hours a day max, you would get similar results I think. College is a huge responsibility with alot of free time on weekends. What do you expect. Go to any sporting event and you will see tailgating by mostly adults with similar behavior. While it isnt the most healthy and morale behavior, its simply a mix of "kids" who are able to be free and some legal to drink for the first time in thier life. Not in defense of this behavior but bring realistic. Good parenting and moral fortitude can prevent fun times in college from becoming life changing behaviors and outcomes.
My attitude is work hard, play hard -- I'm in college and I do binge drink, but I also recognize when it's time to work and crack down when I should (still maintaining a 3.8 GPA). If one is mature enough, he will have the discipline to know when to drink and have fun and when to put time aside for more serious matters.
There's been of a scandal going on in my campus. I choose to leave my school's anonymous, but I will say that it is a private art school located in Santa Monica, CA. Last quarter, a large handful of students have been not only kicked out of housing, but some were also thrown out of the program.

Not for cheating, vandalism, or other very serious infractions, but for drinking in their apartment. Some of the most talented and brilliant young men and women are now over 60,000 dollars in debt, with no degree, on the streets and sleeping on friends couches.

Some chose to leave our school to move back in with parents halfway across the country, and are saying goodbye to us in two weeks because it�s too difficult to worry about our deadlines and paying rent.

Now, I know many would say that they deserve what they got-- They drank, broke some rules, and suffer the repercussions of their actions. But they are being denied an education.

I thought college was a place to make mistakes and find out who you are as a person, without family, friends, and other such institutions to press certain behaviors and beliefs into us. These kids are literally homeless, and are not permitted into any other campus... And for what? Drinking?

I myself am not a drinker, nor do I do drugs, or smoke, in fact, I've been sober my entire life. But, a great deal of my closest friends range from modest drinkers to severe drug abuse, and I'll admit, despite my strong will to stay sober, the stress we undergo on a daily basis tempts me to let go and release that pressure through inebriation.

The struggle under the time constraints of 5 projects a week deadlines, being far away from friends and family, the loneliness and depression most college freshmen and even juniors and seniors battle is enormous. Gupta himself wrote an article not too long ago, if I'm not mistaken, commenting on the high depression rate in young adults my age.

We aren't given a break. Tuition goes up, faculty and staff quality goes down, and we are recruited for higher education from as young as 12 or 13 in middle school. Our financial aid department insists we take full-loads of classes that we can barely keep up with, and are required to have internships by our second year at our school. Meanwhile, in our student housing, we watch people on Section 8 and Welfare (who do not deserve the government help) sit on their butts all day, and yet we aren't given a break. We�re told to smile and bear through it, often without parental help: we starve, struggle, and are told by our parents and housing staff of our schools "there are plenty of homeless shelters in sunny California" when we make mistakes.

It isn�t the drinking that is the problem, it is the reason why we drink, party, and scratch and claw our way as far away from homework as possible. A human mind and soul can only take so much. Our parents have struggled through the riots, marches, and protests for freedom, for justice, and the American way. The Man has only gotten stronger, and you are now apart of the machine that hurts your children. You are fighting the wrong monster. Because a bottle of Jack Daniels is just a bottle at the end of the day.
I am currently a 22 year old senior in an undergraduate institution and I must say from the point of view from someone who is currently �there,� I do agree that modern college students drink more than our predecessors. I have yet to pinpoint exactly why a majority of us drink or use drugs the way we do, but it is fair to assume that stress has some bearing on consumption. One can also point a finger at peer pressure, especially in the Greek Life scene. For comparison�s sake, I tend to consume alcohol roughly once a week, which is about the same that I have done throughout my college career. Others that I have known, well, you could say alcohol has cost them their college careers. Maybe it depends on the motivation of the individual?
I don't believe students drink more now than they did 40 years ago. When I recall my fathers college stories, there were far more and far crazier party/drinking stories. If anything, the awareness level is much higher now than previously.

As for whether schools should do more to crack down? Some schools have taken several "pro-active" steps that in reality have made the problem much worse. My school banned kegs on campus. They didn't ban drinking, just keg shells. So students, as always, found the next cheapest way to get drunk....hard alcohol. There have been more alcohol related ER visits and injuries since this policy was enacted than before it.

Also, because of the age of liability we live in, it is important to notice that most schools, mine included, are driving student parties off-campus. This opens a whole new world of trouble, everything from a higher risk of sexual assault at strange houses, the constant number of drunk drivers who pretend that DUI's don't exist, and having no help in case someone drinks too much and has to be taken to the ER.

All in all, I'd say the situation is not that students are drinking more than they used to, it's that the risks and dangers are higher currently, and a greater number of people are aware of it.
I think the report blows it out of proportion. First of all, the baby boomer generation is relating our culture to girls gone wild which is wrong. We are definitely not running up and down our college streets showing our you know whats. Secondly, I go to a prestigious university for physics AND chemical engineering and it is not hurting my grades one bit. In fact, my semester GPA's were higher when I went out because it helped relieve a bit of my stress. People who think drinking ruins their lives were probably stupid to begin with and should not be in school. I do not think the schools should crack down on it. It is not their problem. My school's job is to provide me with a proper education and ground-breaking research opportunities...not to provide a baby-sitting service for $42,000/year. I am old enough to sign up and fight for my country according to the US government. I thereby am old enough to have 1 beer...or 20 over the course of the weekend. College students drink to relax and to have a bit of fun in between taking a Calculus III, Quantum Mechanics, and Process control tests all in one day. Like I said before, most of the people who go overboard on drinking are the kids at college who weren't going to be going anywhere in the first place. AKA, the kids whose parents paid for them to be babysat professionally.
collegs should not promote drinking by allowing ST.Patrick Partys to be a part of the campus or any where near it.Poor St. Patrick is being used as an excuse to get drunk and ruin your life. Local stores benifit themselves by selling all kinds of green things. Walmart had 6 stacks of beer 5ft. high and 6ft. square stacked right next to the green stuff. This is a hugh college town. What does St. Patrick have to do with any of it? And how does this benefit the collegs with students dropping out from drunkenes?
I can say, with 100% certainty that I drank an inordinate amount throughout my college career. Generally, from Wednesday through Saturday night. And if it was NFL season, all day Sunday. It didn't effect my studies too much (except for the occasional hangover), however, now, just a year out of school, my drinking stamina has taken a rather large hit. I definitely couldn't do the 4 days, 5 nights drinking program anymore. I'm pretty sure I would keel over that first week.

That being said, I wouldn't change a thing about my time in school, as it has been the best experience in my life to date. Rite of passage? Maybe...but it's just a matter of realizing how much you can handle, and staying (relatively) in control!
A friend told me that while driving thorough E. Lansing this morning (9:00 AM) she saw kids lined up down the sidewalks and around the corners waiting to get in several of the bars. Just how much can they drink between 9 AM and when the bars close? Luckily St. Patrick's day isn't always on Saturdays.
The binge drinking begins earlier then college, right under the noses of parent while these kids are in high school. In fact,there are more than a fair share of parents who buy the alcohol for parties for under aged teens and join in on the antics. Our police register shows arrests of this nature on a regular basis, especially as prom time arrives.

Our son was in with a group of students who regular indulged abusing drugs and alcohol as early as their sophomore year of high school. We tried everything to help our son more psychiatric care to threats of rehab. I joined a Parent's 12-Step Program but quit when they told me this was just the beginning. This were bound to get much worst. They were right I was in denial.

He ended up alcoholic, barely graduating, with 2 DUIs (one that could have killed him), 3 arrests for possession followed by an arrest for parole violation. He was sent to jail for six months.

Today he lives on his own out West. Hw works and has cut back on his drinking. He began school and is doing well for now.

Students are definitely drinking much more now and taking far more risks. The trend of mixing alcohol with pharma parties is something we would never have considered in our day and it's killing numbers of young people everyday.

Schools need to crack down, yet more importantly, beginning in the middle schools and homes there needs to be more education. This is not only an social problem among students but among parents who don't want to believe their children are getting involved with such things. Things are not like they used to be.
Because I'm still in college, I don't have the perspective to judge whether or not college students are drinking more these days. However, the statistics on substance abuse among college students don't surprise me. The attitude that a night out in which you weren't completely trashed wasn't really fun seems to prevail among the majority, but luckily, not among everyone. My college campus is officially "dry," but I think that if a student wants alcohol to be the main focus of social life, there are few real obstacles preventing its abuse.

To respond to Jeff, of course college is a huge responsibility, but drinking to excess 3+ days a week isn't helping anyone cope with these responsibilities. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that most college students who do drink to excess regularly may not stop even if something that ought to make them stop and think about their behavior befalls them. Many a freshman is making decisions about when to go to bed, eat, study, or go out on their own for the first time in their lives and learning moderation can take time. I would suggest that substance abuse and prevention programs be made more visible and readily available, but what university wants to look as though its student body has a drinking problem? More independent organizations should come to campuses more frequently to discuss the ramifications of abuse and addiction.

The decision to drink or not drink is personal and up to the individual, but as long as so many students equate drinking with binge drinking to the point of black out or poor decision making, statistics like those that the CASA published will persist, if not worsen.
I am in law school which is supposed to be a graduate program - I expected students to be mature and past the alcoholic binge drinking scene typical of undergraduate programs. Quite the opposite! Many students drink heavily. It's no wonder why we have a California Substance Abuse Program already in place for attorneys. The students here - if not already alcoholics - seem to be aspiring ones fit to enter that program in the future.
Yes, binge drinking is definetly a problem in college, but I think it starts at the high school level. Although emphasis on individualism throughout a childs' education has reduced peer pressure, it has also led to teens openly expressing their views and their rebellious attitude. I personally can vouch for the increase in teenage binge drinking. As freshman I hung out with friends without being even prompted or tempted to drink. However, as a senior I see high rates of freshman engaging in this act. Binge drinking has been reinforced by drinking competitions in which the more a person drinks correlates with the respect a person receives. As more kids take their first sips of alcohol earlier on, more will become binge drinkers earlier on its inevitable.
I think the social pressue to drink is detrimental. Many young people do not even like the taste of alcohol (whether beer or liquors) when they are 18, but it is 'supposedly 'cool' to get drunk. If students would speak their mind, and reject pressure to 'loosen up', they might avoid unpleasant surprises.
Things have not gotten any worse than the y were twenty years ago. There is just increased awareness and scrutiny. It is the job of parents and these young adults to take responsibility for themselves. We don't need more regulations from the schools. Why is it that people always seem to look for external entities to take charge of their lives for them?
This is a serious problem and I think the root of it is the way college students are treated. During college, most people are in this sort of "half child/half adult" existence in which they are expected on some level to be adults, but on many others still treated like children. We've already extended adolescence to a ridiculous extreme, and having it fade away over a period of four (or for many, more than four) years I think is unhealthy. A lot of college students don't have a clue what responsibility is, nor should they, not with the way society has treated them up until that point. It always scared me during college when I heard my fellow students (some as old as 27) say things like "when I grow up" or still be completely dependent on their parents to make decisions for them. My grandparents and great grandparents were married, owned houses, and had kids during the years that people spend in college today, most of them starting before they were 18. My parents were married with a house and kids by the time they were 23, and they went to college. I graduated college in 2006 when I was 21, within one month of graduating I had a very good job, I owned a house, and I got engaged (to be married a few months later). I know so many people who did nothing after college but return home to live with their parents and work at the local Walmart or Denny's. Why? Not because of alcohol, because they were raised to depend on their parents, or with the understanding that "adult" things were too hard for them. Alcohol certainly doesn't help them, but during college I drank as much or more than they did. I think people really need to be independent adults before they get to college, otherwise they really have no chance.
I can't say whether college kids get drunk more or less than they used to. But as far as cracking down, I agree with the commenter who said it's mainly an issue if they are putting others in harm's way. Other than that, students have to live with their choices. They're adults now, and they have to face that like adults, not have the schools babysitting them.

I wonder sometimes if parents don't realze that in many states (or at least in my own) it's perfectly legal for a minor to drink (in moderation) with the parents present. I think some are horrified at the thought - but isnt that a good way to teach responsibility? I think sometimes people go nuts in college because they were suppressed from so much in high school. In my case, my parents started letting me have a small helping of wine at Thanksgiving and certain special occasions once they figured I was old enough to have some - well into my late teens. Now, I was neve really the party girl type, but being served a bit now and then gave me an idea of how much a reasonable portion was for me, so tha when I was off on my own was less likely to overindulge.

On the subject of danger to the kids themselves, I think there needs to be a distinction between habitual binge drinking and the occasional overindulgence. Definitely, making a habit of it can become a serious problem. But I have been known to indulge on occasion. Maybe 2 or 3 times in my life, actually, and always among trusted friends. I partied with the medieval reenactors at my school - and if anybody's been around that crowd they know "party" can mean something totally different from your typical college party. Quite often it was camping out by a fire, telling stories, catapulting the occasional pumpkin across the yard - and for the adults in the group, quite often there was a sampling of meads and wines that members of our group had brewed. We're not talking moonshine here - I mean good quality drinks that go marvelous with a meal (one of them, I will say, was absolutely divine with chocolate and I regret not buying a few bottles off my friend). So, yes, there was the tendency to get a little drunk trying just a bit of everything - and maybe a bit more of the ones we liked best.

I think, in part, it's the difference in "hey, let's get drunk" and "wow, this stuff is good, pour me another glass!" I can only speak for myself, really, but I think maybe some of us who "binge" only rarely are more aware of our limits, so aren't as likely to put ourselves at risk (the worst anybody usually gets out of me is I'll suddenly start talking everyone's ear off, then apologizing every minute or so for talking everyone's ear off). And there's a different attitude behind it, though I do know a few people who head off to the bars after exams to try and unwind.

Really, to me, it's all a matter of degrees and intents. Yes, lots of college students out there are getting into risky drinking behaviors, but there are others who veer off a little on occasion and generally aren't the worse for wear. Except when they have to listen to the other girls partying in the next dorm over at 2am on a Tuesday night before an exam and go in the next morning with no sleep...
In my opinion, over indulgent alcohol consumption by teens to the 25 year old is growing and turning into an epidemic that this country better address before we have serious issues with a generation of alcoholics. They are placing society at a serious risk.
If history has taught us one thing, it's that people don't change. Kids and adults alike will continue to drink. It all depends on how much attention the media gives to the situation as to how much of an epidemic we think it is. The way it is now, is how it was 100, 200, 500 years ago.
I am more concerned about the amount of drinking at the H.S. level. I believe the problem starts well before college. Most kids have already developed quite a tolerance before heading to college. Which is most likely why it seems as though more college students are drinking in excess. Beer games and jello shots are now H.S. activities occuring more than just weekends and well before college setting up a potential addiction/abuse problem and path to failure before a student barely gets acclimated to college life.
People going into college with weak values, poor coping skills and horrible decision making abilities are going to suffer regardless. Drinking just helps bring it to the surface� So is it really necessary to make life harder for everyone by clearing all possible dangers for the few that can�t �see� to begin with?? With the logic of the �make everything child proof in America� we might as well put iron underpants with locks on all the girls and guys so sex can�t happen on campus as well� or at that rate no cars or motorcycles because some people race them and may get hurt�No sharp scissors..ect.. Wow here is a thought you will never see� maybe teach kids how to think..then maybe they make better choices? For others who have their heads screwed on strait for lack of better words, all drinking during college is going to do is be a choice they make in one of many avenues they choose to relax�� Cracking down on college drinking is like trying to put out a fire with a tennis racquet, it is not going to do anything.
Yes I definitely agree that college students probably do drink more today than they did in the past... At my university I know many people who drink excessively up to 4 days a week and will still be graduating with honours this June! The bottom line is knowing how to work hard and maintain your school work amongst all of the partying. This only becomes a problem if the students let it take over their lives. Clearly most college and university students are intelligent enough to know that when they wake up and recover from a hangover that they have to get some studying done so they don't fail. And if people can't handle that then they should realize that they need to cut back on the drinking.
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